Sunderland Empire Pantomime
J.M. Barrie’s enduring tale of the boy who wouldn’t grow up can be interpreted in so many different ways, but, in panto, the emphasis is always on innocent fun and slapstick, and the Empire’s production gleefully follows that theme.
Everything is delightfully OTT, but it is better for that as far as the kids are concerned – they have no problem identifying who the goodies and baddies are and in particular who to hiss and boo.
Almost all those boos and hisses are hurled in the direction of Tom Lister’s Captain Hook, who is the real star of the show.
The Emmerdale actor relishes every second on stage, whether it be drenching the audience he continually interacts with, sword-fighting with Peter Pan or hatching a cunning new plot against his nemesis.
The natural comedic timing of Sy Thomas’s Smee allows the two pirates to spark off each other superbly throughout the show as the plot is driven on by Hook’s efforts to kill off Pan once and for all.
Katy Ashworth’s utterly exuberant Peter Pan makes an attractive target for Hook to pursue – the CBBC actress’s bouncy cheerfulness revolting the captain.
Ashworth brings warmth to the role, as well as a great head for heights, as she zipwires around the stage and over the audience.
The story was originally staged more than a century ago, but this production brings it right up to date with a variety of gags and in-jokes aimed more at adults than kids.
No-one brings it up date more than Elisha Covell, whose Tinker Bell is played in the manner of a petulant Geordie Shore character, while Courtney-Mae Briggs’ delightful Tiger-Lily is modern and feisty.
It’s pleasing to see so many of the supporting cast and dancers drawn from the North East and they add colour and charm to the choreography.
There were glitches on the night, but they were handled very professionally, in particular by Captain Hook who ad-libbed confidently when a foam spray let him down.
It’s hard work for the cast in a production which runs until Sunday, January 6, but it is worth it judging by the enjoyment so many young people had on the night.
by Graeme Anderson