REVIEW: Peter Pan, Sunderland Empire, until January 6
From Sunderland to Neverland, this year's Empire panto is a real Christmas cracker!
The tale of the boy who never grew up is this year's star-studded offering and it leaves your spirits soaring as high as Peter himself!
Played to perfection by the dashing Josh Andrews, the show is a great re-enactment of the classic storyline as Peter flies into the world (and imaginations) of the Darling children Wendy (played by Ruth Betteridge) and her brothers John and Michael, and whisks them from their Bloomsbury bedroom, through the London night sky to the tropical paradise of Neverland, where all sorts of adventures await as they encounter the Lost Boys, Tiger Lily and her Indian braves and, of course, the pirate gang led by Peter's arch-enemy Captain Hook, ending in a fantastic fighting finale.
It's a great cast that keeps the audience entertained from start to finish. Josh Andrews excels as Peter and his flying sequences as he climbs to the very heights of the theatre leave the crowd marvelling at his awesome aerodynamics. Melanie Walters may have swapped Barry Island for a pirate's cove but there's some great one-liners and some very fishy gags from Gavin & Stacey's favourite Welsh mum Gwen as she sparkles both as the Mermaid and Mrs Darling.
Lauren Ferreira and Inez Mackenzie are a feisty duo as Tinker Bell and Tiger Lily respectively, while the supporting cast - especially the acrobatic antics of pirate trio William Beckerleg, Morgan Chambers and Alex Middlebrook - also deserve special mention.
But for cheers and jeers alike, my favourites were Jamie Lomas, who is a brilliant baddie as Captain Hook. Before he walks the plank to face the mercy of the crocodile that stalks his every move (and scuttles across the panto stage to great amusement) his villainy is lapped up by the crowd.
And the show wouldn't be anywhere near as successful as it is without Richard McCourt as Hook's loveable if hapless sidekick Smee. Best known for Dick and Dom fame, McCourt is hilarious throughout - trust me, you'll never have shouted 'BOGIES' so much in one night.
The music is great and you'll find yourself singing along, whether it's to George Ezra or Baby Shark. Infectious isn't the word, though for a touch of the spectacular, nothing beats the climax to the first half as Peter's flying scene is performed along to the Wicked musical hit, Defying Gravity.
Peter Pan may never have grown up but this is a panto with something for all ages. Don't miss it!