Classy panto fun flies into Northampton with Peter Pan

Joe Sleight and Millie Davies. Picture: Graeme Braidwood
Joe Sleight and Millie Davies. Picture: Graeme Braidwood

Anna Brosnan reviews Peter Pan at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton

Pantomime is often wrongly thought of as the poor cousin of the theatre world; a little too flippant, too sparkly and with too much permitted heckling to be taken seriously.

Joe Sleight, Darren Day and company. Picture: Graeme Braidwood

Joe Sleight, Darren Day and company. Picture: Graeme Braidwood

But anyone who appreciates a decent panto will understand this genre of theatre is a discipline and an art form as serious as any other.

Long gone are the days of rickety sets and dodgy backdrops. Nowadays many large-scale pantos are highly technical, with special effects and a multi-layered script. Peter Pan, which is currently running at Northampton’s Royal and Derngate, is one of this type.

Right from the opening scene, audience attentions were gripped by shooting star pyrotechnics, ‘Tinkerbell’ light effects and a flying Peter Pan.

Despite the glossy technical effects, the show had plenty of traditionally ‘panto’ aspects, even though it seemed to be missing a dame.

Darren Day. Picture: Graeme Braidwood

Darren Day. Picture: Graeme Braidwood

There was a great deal of slapstick humour provided by comedy veterans The Grumbleweeds (Robin Colvill and James Brandon), who delivered a cleve script designed to appeal to both young and old. One minor criticism I have was the amount of time spent over a comedy stool which inflicted pain on whoever sat on it. In my view the joke went on a little long.

However, both Robin and James gave undeniably rib-tickling performances which had to be admired for their energy levels. One highlight for me was a scene in which the pair appeared dressed as Teletubbies, with little comic touches including falling down stairs in the huge, padded costumes.

West End star Darren Day really shone as Captain Hook, who presented the character as a weird hybrid reminiscent of Captain Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean), Adam Ant and Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses .

Darren has a superb singing voice, as one would expect from someone who is no stranger to musicals, and I really enjoyed his delivery of songs such as Frank Sinatra’s My Way and a quirky version of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, performed with the excellent Rachael Wooding (Mimi the Magical Mermaid).

For me, the absolute highlights of the show were performances by Flawless as The Neverlanders. The street dance champions who shot into the limelight after appearing on Britain’s Got Talent in 2009 are really outstanding. I couldn’t have put it better than my four-year-old daughter who turned to me after their first dance and said: “They are amazing!”

Many of the favourite characters from the much-loved Peter Pan story make an appearance in the show, even the fairy Tinkerbell, played by Abigail Dever. A former Starlight Express cast member, Abigail showcases some superb rollerskating skills as she twirls and spins across the stage. I thought this was an effective way to emulate the movements of a darting, magical fairy.

By the end of the panto, my daughter and her friend were both on their feet and dancing, which was proof enough to me that Peter Pan delivers a generous dose of Christmas joy - the aim of every good panto.

* Peter Pan will run at Royal & Derngate until December 30. For more information, see www.royalandderngate.co.uk