Review – Peter Pan, Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, 5th January 2018

Peter PanHaving had a wonderful afternoon in the company of Fred and Lilli, Mrs Chrisparkle, Lord and Lady Prosecco and I regrouped after a brief rest to see Peter Pan at the Lyceum. Our annual visit to Sheffield would not be complete without the usual two and a half hours of the sheer joyful childishness of feeling ten years old again. As usual, Damian Williams returned as the fat bloke in a dress (his words), this time as Mrs Smee – we never found out what happened to Smee; I can only assume he suffocated.

damian-williamsWhat sets the Sheffield panto apart from all the rest is its pure energy. There may well be (indeed there are) pantos that are more lavishly produced, with starrier names and with bigger song and dance numbers. But when I’m in the Lyceum, laughing along with a thousand other souls, there’s simply nowhere else I’d rather be. There are, of course, all the usual running gags – the patter sketch which is just an excuse to make puns out of fruit and vegetables, the-castthe constant comparison with the Rotherham panto, and, naturally, the famous Lyceum bench scene, where we constantly shout out It’s Behind You as a ghostie picks off members of the cast one by one till only Mr Williams is left – and we all join in with Well! We’ll have to do it again, then, won’t we? Mrs C and I continue to use that phrase at appropriate moments the whole year long.

damian-williams-and-gemma-huntAs usual Mr Williams is just sensational. His constant asides, his stupid laugh, his magical connection with the audience, his infectious sense of fun, and his determination that every show should be even more enjoyable than the last, means that he is simply the best in the business. That’s why we have to keep coming back!

shaun-williamsonOur baddie this year was Shaun Williamson, who’ll never lose his association with a certain well-known soap opera; indeed, at one point Mr Williams turns to the audience and said You didn’t expect to see Barry from Eastenders doing Taylor Swift, did you? We certainly didn’t. Other things we didn’t expect to see were Mr Williams emerging from the Tardis dressed like the Jodie Whitaker Doctor Who (well, it is Sheffield, after all); Wendi Peters as Mrs Darling singing Not While I’m Around from Sweeney Todd, wendi-petersallegedly as a lullaby but forgetting that it’s originally when Mrs Lovett is trying to track Tobias down so he can be made into a meat pie; or two new characters – Ethel the Overacting Pirate (I don’t know how Emily Watkins kept up that hearty performance for the entire show), and Dave the Don’t Care Pirate (fantastic sulking from Emily McAvoy until Mr Williams deliberately made her giggle).

shaun-williamson-and-damian-williamsMr Williamson grabbed the baddie role with both hands (well, one hand and one hook) and revelled in it completely. He gave a delightfully stagey performance, whilst still being the perfect straight man foil to Mr Williams’ never-ending one-liners. emily-watkinsHe also has a surprisingly good singing voice! Ms Peters, of course, has a fantastic vocal range and enjoyed playing with her characterisations of a very posh Mrs Darling, an Estuary (appropriately) Mermaid and a right-northern Big Chief Squatting Cow.

gemma-huntNot being a CBBC or Channel 5 Milkshake watcher, I’d never seen Gemma Hunt (Tiger Lily) or David Ribi (Peter Pan) before, but they both threw themselves into the fun of the role; Ms Hunt in particular has a very warm and entertaining stage presence, and I was very pleased to be on her side of the auditorium when it came to the traditional out-singing the other lot number towards the end of the show. (For the record, it was a draw between the two sides. Yet again! How does that always happen?) Jo Osmond was a very punchy Tinkerbell – samantha-dorrance-and-david-ribiI bet she could get you into all sorts of trouble if she was your best friend – and Samantha Dorrance perfect as a very sweet and lovable Wendy; as usual, her enhanced affections for Peter went right over his head. Boys, eh, what are we like? For added thrills and spills this year, we had the very entertaining Diamond Acrobats, all the way from Tanzania; and our children on stage were the Red Team – full of fun and some extremely good acting too!

jo-osmondWith lively music, a cheerful ensemble, a very funny script (of course) and that fathomless energy that the Sheffield panto always inspires, this was another fantastic end to our Christmas season. Cinderella awaits this December – we’ve already booked!

Production photos by Robert Day

Review – Peter Pan, Richmond Theatre, 27th December 2018

Peter PanAs is our usual practice, Mrs Chrisparkle and I spent a few days in London between Christmas and New Year to do some shopping in the sales, have some nice post-Christmas meals out, and – see some shows! Our first choice might seem a little unusual, but bear in mind three things: 1) Mrs C had never been to the beautiful Richmond Theatre before ; 2) ever since A Chorus Line I’ve followed the career of Harry Francis with great interest and 3) we couldn’t resist the prospect of seeing Robert Lindsay as Captain Hook.

Harry FrancisIt can be difficult to know quite where to pitch a panto. Do you do it purely for girls and boys (Oh no you don’t) or do you do it purely for the mums and dads (can get awkward with the more curious kids) or do you somehow pitch it between the two? This panto was definitely pitched primarily at the kids with a few nuances chucked in for the adults. A very different kettle of fish from Snow White at the London Palladium which we were to see a couple of days later!

Robert LindsayNo sooner does the curtain rise than we see a very adventurous and clean-cut young Peter Pan, played by Harry Francis, breaking and entering his way into the Darling household, as is his wont. Vikki Bebb’s Wendy is a very maternal young thing who’s willing to get into a few scrapes, but not too many because that wouldn’t be sufficiently responsible for her position in the family. Later on, when she wonders more and more whether she has a chance of romance with Peter, it goes right over his head; typical of a boy who never grows up. Mr Francis is on tremendous form, showing us some fantastic pirouettes as only he can, galvanising the audience into childlike excitement, and creating a very likeable and brave hero at the centre of all the action.

Jon Clegg and Robert LindsayWhereas we’d all like to have Peter Pan as our friend, it’s much more likely that we’d end up with Smee instead; a fast and funny performance by Jon Clegg, with some clever impressions and great interaction with the audience. It’s true, we did all want to be in his gang. Such a shame that front-row Georgie never got to kiss his bum (you had to be there).

Rachel StanleyIsobel Hathaway is a spirited Tinkerbell who, appropriately, knows her own mind but also needs rescuing from time to time. Keisha Marina Atwell sings beautifully as Tiger Lily, although unfortunately the script doesn’t give her a lot to do. I also wished Rachel Stanley’s Mimi (The Magical Mermaid) had more involvement in the plot, because she’s a right funny lass who brightens up the stage whenever she’s on. Giving great support there’s also an incredibly good-looking young ensemble who sing and dance their way into our affections as well as creating a lot of nice comic moments too.

Rachel Stanley and Robert LindsayBut it was Robert Lindsay whom we were all excited to see, in his panto debut; he clearly loves every minute of it, and his enjoyment transfers across to us in the audience with ease. He’s always been one of the best song and dance men in the business, so it’s rewarding to see him borrowing his Oliver and Me and My Girl appearances in renditions of You’ve Got to Pick a Pirate or Two, Doing the Pirate Walk (Oi) and – best of all, and which the audience really joined in with – Reviewing The Situation. We were grateful when he likened the young actor playing Michael to Jacob Rees-Mogg because he was only saying what we were all thinking. And he must be due some sort of acting award for looking so terrified as he was about to be gobbled up by what must be the fluffiest, cuddliest looking crocodile that stage engineering has ever created; they must have put the word out that it shouldn’t be too scary.

Peter Pan castMy only criticism of the production is that perennial problem of amplification. From where we sat in row E of the stalls the sound was hugely over-amplified, enough to make your ears crackle and make everything sound tinny. Can I suggest every sound engineer in the country to go and see Hamilton to find out how it should be done? Nevertheless, it was still a very enjoyable show and perfect for a family night out. It’s on until Sunday 6th January and I guarantee a good time!

Jon CleggP. S. You never know what will happen at a panto, particularly when you involve children. The most delightful moment came when Smee got four children out of the audience for the Old MacDonald sing-song. Having chatted and sung with them all, they played the old trick of only having three bags of gifts for four children, so as to create that moment of tension/sympathy/injustice, however you like to react to it. But no one was expecting the first boy instantly to give his bag to the second boy because he didn’t want his friend to miss out. A heart-warming lesson of true generosity for these grim times!