This year’s Open Door’s panto Peter Pan at the Garrison Theatre was a great rip-roaring production with a large, mostly young, but well-drilled cast who really got the audience going.
A rather demure start saw the three Darling children in bed, but things quickly became much more colourful and exciting.
The elfin Peter Pan (Hermione Boyes) whisked the three away amid a beautiful dark backdrop of stars and smoke – there was lots of smoke throughout – and later Pan sang a touching duet with eldest child Wendy (Grace Anderson).
The action proceeded at a cracking pace with plenty of dance and song, and followed the framework of JM Barrie’s book closely.
There were the Lost Boys, who performed a splendid dance with clashing sticks, and exotic mermaids preening themselves on a desert island against a warm green backdrop. The theme tune of Desert Island Discs was played by the live band (Carol Jamieson, David Marsh and Siobhan McGregor), whose choice of music and immaculate timing greatly enhanced the show.
And, of course, the pirates. John Haswell, resplendent in red and gold, with black curls topped with a black hat dazzled as Captain Hook, while his pirate horde were colourful and dastardly.
No panto would be complete without a cross-dressing dame, and Robert Lowes as Big Jessie (definitely not in the book) was a stand-out presence throughout, delivering some of the panto’s required jokes in a great booming voice.
How was she to know Loganair did not fly to Neverland, she asked, and when her son Jimmy (Lynsey Rendall) fell in love with a mermaid, she warned him not to take her to Frankie’s for a first date or “she’ll end up battered”.
And when she heard pirates were around: “Things are looking up.”
Hook was humorous too: “What’s that on your feet?” he asked his sidekick Smee (Iain Souter) and was horrified to be told they were Crocs.
And yes, the crocodile did show his ugly face from time to time through the side door of the stage, his menacing tick-tock a reminder of the dark deeds to come.
The second half of the panto got wilder and wackier, with uninhibited female warriors yelling “death to all pirates”, vowing to protect the Lost Boys while Jessie offered to be their mother.
Wendy wanted to go home and Peter decided never to grow up. But he nearly lost his life when Hook substituted poison for medicine, with the audience yelling at him not to drink it.
Brave Tinkerbell, stunning in neon lights, took it instead, leading to the audience shouting they believed in fairies to bring her round.
A hilarious moment came when Hook lost his wig, and more audience comment when he announced he was “drop dead gorgeous”…
“In your dreams,” shouted a young voice.
Action reached fever pitch on the pirate ship when the Lost Boys were captured and Wendy was tied to the mast. The gun and cutlass-toting pirates had fun with a barrel of rum and brought out their cannon, “Big Graeme”. And the young audience volunteers who walked the plank (wearing SIC regulation rubber rings) caused great hilarity.
Hook, of course, eventually ended up in the crocodile’s jaws and Jessie, bedecked in purple, finally got Smee to marry her – either that or get his throat cut “a difficult decision”, he said, with his knees knocking.
The whole panto was a delight, with atmospheric lighting and almost seamless and quite complex scene changes, ending with a rousing Christmas song to send the audience home smiling.
Congratulations to director Izzy Swanson and the team for a hugely enjoyable production.
By Rosalind Griffiths