Writer and Director: Paul Hendy
Musical Director: Phil Hornsey
Choreographer: Sarah Langley
Reviewer: Janet Jepson
Peter Pan is something of a tradition in Christmas shows at Sheffield Theatres, and has graced the stages of either the Lyceum or the Crucible four times since the beginning of the 1980s. Flying back through the years to 2010, 2000, 1992 and 1982, various stars have appeared in various versions of the tale, and all have thrilled audiences of children and adults alike. Of course, the added bonus of performances of Peter Pan is the wonderful royalties paid to Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children. In 1929, J M Barrie gave the rights to his timeless tale to the hospital, and throughout the years, along with other generous donations, these monies have enabled GOSH to provide world-class medical care to children in the UK.
This year’s Peter Pan in conjunction with Evolution Productions at the Lyceum is again a stunning one. From the moment it begins – with the chorus members singing and dancing throughout the auditorium – this is a feast of colour and energy. Everyone skips and runs (and even flies) through their roles; songs such as Don’t Stop Me Now’are catchy; the jokes, including the obligatory Brexit offering, are corny; and there’s the usual smattering of “he’s behind you” and “oh no it isn’t”. There’s a general aura about the show that every single person on that stage is enjoying every minute. Although there no longer seems to be a need to warn children that “no human being can fly, so please don’t try” as in 1982, it does seem sensible that this time everyone is warned that the show contains “a fat bloke in a dress”.
Damien Williams is again wearing the dress (well 10 of them to be precise) for the 11th year running at the Lyceum. As Mrs Smee he’s loud, proud, rude and riotous as a good dame should be, with an unparalleled talent around marshmallows and donuts. When a fellow actor’s mic went down on the evening of the review his improvisation was priceless. Children’s presenters David Ribi and Gemma Hunt are bouncy and smiley in their roles as Peter and Tiger Lily, and their community singing gets all the audience enthusiastically competing to be the best side. Soap stars Shaun Williamson and Wendi Peters play the Darling parents, and double as Captain Hook and Chief Squatting Cow. Shaun is a fearsome Hook and forms a hilarious double act with the dame – their fruit, veg and herbs barrow is something not to be missed. Jo Osmond as Tinkerbell is a little ray of sparky sunshine, flitting around the stage and putting everyone in their places. The inclusion of Ethel the Over-Acting Pirate, aka Emily Watkins, is a bit of a mystery as the concept is a little overdone, but she raises some laughs. Her ‘colleague’ though, Emily McAvoy as the Can’t Be Bothered Pirate has an uncanny air of the Kevin about her, complete with wonderful slouching and eye-rolling (this role may be a recent inclusion as it is not mentioned in the show programme). The blue team of young people performed on the evening reviewed and every one of them is amazingly smiley and talented. Alex Marriott and Ben Rossiter taking the roles of Michael and John seem very much at home flying through the air. Special mention also has to be made of The Diamond Acrobats, a team of four who blend into the chorus then flip and tumble effortlessly across the stage, eating fire as a sideline at one point.
The costumes are colourful, sparkly, wacky and, in the dame’s case, completely mad, and that’s what makes pantomime so special. There are real Red Indian costumes, comical mermaid outfits, and of course, Mrs Smee’s creations have to be seen to be believed. The scenery is bright and colourful, but the best effects are created on the huge screen that becomes the overhead panorama of London, and indeed the whole universe, as Peter and his friends fly through the air. It’s hard to believe that they aren’t actually flying out there, so maybe that 1982 warning wasn’t far off the mark.
Everyone needs to take in a panto during the festive season, and Sheffield hosts one of the best. It could be said that this year the special effects are not quite as spectacular – in the past, the unsuspecting audience has been virtually rained on or attacked by marauding fishes and octopus – but the tradition lives on and there’s always something to surprise, amuse and tickle your fancy.
Runs until Sunday 6 January 2019 | Image: Robert Day