What to expect from high-flying spectacle Peter Pan at Sunderland Empire this Christmas

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Panto star Jamie Lomas says he’s looking forward to hearing the famous Roker Roar - as well as a fair share of boos - from the Sunderland Empire crowds this Christmas.

Rehearsals for Peter Pan have got off to a flying start ahead of opening night on December 14 and Jamie, who rose to fame with roles in Hollyoaks, Eastenders and Coronation Street, says he’s looking forward to stepping into the buckled boots of Captain Hook.

Sunderland Empire's Peter Pan rehearsals. From left Richard McCourt as Smee and Jamie Lomas as Hook and Mr Darling.

Sunderland Empire's Peter Pan rehearsals. From left Richard McCourt as Smee and Jamie Lomas as Hook and Mr Darling.

“I love playing a baddie, it’s what I do best and I’m going to try my best to scare the kids as much as possible,” said the actor in a break from rehearsals at Kathleen Davis School of Dance. He added: “Sunderland is famous for its Roker Roar so I’m looking forward to some vocal crowds.

“This is my first time at the Empire theatre and it’s a beautiful theatre so I’m looking forward to performing on the stage.”

This time last year Jamie was deep in the jungle for I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, a series in which he came second.

He said appearing on the hit show was life-changing.

Josh Andrews as Peter Pan and Ruth Betteridge as Wendy

Josh Andrews as Peter Pan and Ruth Betteridge as Wendy

“It’s such an amazing experience that I’m quite envious of people that are in there now,” he said. “It’s so liberating not having your phone for four weeks, including the week you’re in lock down. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I had an incredible time and made friends for life.”

Jamie stars in this year’s panto alongside Richard McCourt, of Dick’n’Dom fame, as Smee; Melanie Walters from Gavin and Stacey as Mrs Darling and West End actor Josh Andrews as Peter Pan.

Melanie said: “Rehearsals have been going so well and there’s so much talent. There’s an acrobatic trio called The Nitwits and their energy is incredible.

“The brilliant thing about Peter Pan is that it has a great story arc to it. What’s great about panto is that, for many children, it’s their first time at the theatre. So much of what they see now is through a screen, but to see their faces when the curtain goes up and they see the depth of the stage and a story told in 3D is incredible. Sometimes I watch from the wings just to see their reaction.”

Sunderland Empire's Peter Pan rehearsals. From left Richard McCourt as Smee, Melanie Walters as Mrs Darling/Mermaid and Jamie Lomas as Hook and Mr Darling.

Sunderland Empire's Peter Pan rehearsals. From left Richard McCourt as Smee, Melanie Walters as Mrs Darling/Mermaid and Jamie Lomas as Hook and Mr Darling.

The cast will be joined by youngsters from city stage schools Kathleen Davis Stage School, Shameem Karim School of Performing Arts, Northern Star and The Worx who will be sharing the stage in the roles of the village children and the Lost Boys.

Director Jimmy Johnston “I’m really happy with how rehearsals are going so far, there’s been plenty of singing, dancing and silliness, I like to keep it fun. There’s been a great atmosphere in rehearsals. There’s nothing worse than when one person brings the atmosphere down, but it’s not been like that with this cast. My background is as a West End performer so I know how important it is to keep the cast happy and keep that energy up.”

He added: “We’ve been really impressed with the local dance schools too, the kids are great. Audiences can expect a traditional panto with even more slapstick and silliness.”

Choreographer Phyllida Crowley-Smith said: “This is my third year doing panto in Sunderland and we have a lovely cast. There’s some great young talent in the city who work hard and really want to learn.

Sunderland Empire's Peter Pan rehearsals. From left Inez Mackenzie as Liza and Tiger Lily and Ruth Betteridge as Wendy

Sunderland Empire's Peter Pan rehearsals. From left Inez Mackenzie as Liza and Tiger Lily and Ruth Betteridge as Wendy

“Panto is a very specific genre of choreography and people have expectations of it, so we try to make it fun, accessible and full of energy.”

•Peter Pan is at Sunderland Empire from December 14 to January 6. Tickets available from the Box Office on High Street West, via the ticket centre 0844 871 3022* or www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland

*calls cost 7p per minute plus standard network charges. Booking and transaction fees may apply to telephone and online bookings.

Rehearsals are in full swing for Peter Pan

Rehearsals are in full swing for Peter Pan

Director Jimmy Johnston

Director Jimmy Johnston

The Nitwits acrobatics

The Nitwits acrobatics