Sheffield Theatres and Evolution Productions
The Crucible presents its annual winter warmer in a particularly lively production of Peter Pan with Damian Williams appearing once more as the Pantomime Dame.
Written and directed by Paul Hendy, the pantomime is tailor-made to appeal to the Sheffield audience with sly digs at rival local cities and the inclusion of the familiar set piece sequences like the 'ghost bench', enlivened this year by a comic book flying wraith.
The story of Peter Pan opens with a bird's-eye video projection of London reminiscent of Paddington, which leads effortlessly to the home of the Darling family and the introduction of the main characters. Later scenes include an Indian reservation, a Mermaid's rock pool and a Pirate ship so there is plenty to enchant the eye.
The ensemble scenes are enriched by some very impressive circus skills and several members of the cast take to the air with grace and impressive confidence.
The song and dance aspects of the production are particularly impressive this year. All of the principals sing well. The company dance routines are excitingly choreographed by Sarah Langley and include teams of young people who swell the action. The musical accompaniment by a small group of musicians is rich in tone and foot-tappingly rhythmic.
Hendy's adaptation is generally faithful to the original but I missed the magic of Tinker Bell's recovery from taking the poison which has been better achieved by magical stage effects rather than the re-awakening of a rather solid fairy. I was also waiting to be terrified by the crocodile but it never happened.
David Ribi and Samantha Dorrance are well cast as Peter Pan and Wendy. Ribi is handsome, charming and athletic, very impressive when somersaulting on the wires, and Dorrance is gentle, sensitive and loving, everything that a surrogate mother should be. Both sing very well.
Wendi Peters is a tower of strength as Mrs Darling and in later roles. She has a powerful stage presence, an outstanding singing voice and establishes a warm relationship with the young audience.
The relationship with the audience is a vital factor in pantomime and it is interesting to note the difference in approach between actors who have worked on children's TV programmes and others like Damian Williams who belong to a very different genre of entertainment.
Gemma Hunt, who appears as Tiger Lily, is an erstwhile CBBC presenter who immediately draws the children in with her cheerful and reassuring personality. By contrast, Williams, as the traditional Pantomime Dame, operates on confrontation and buffoonery, which goes down better with some than others. However, when I asked an 10-year-old boy what he thought was the best bit of the show, it was "the fat bloke in the dress"!
As the pantomime villain, Shaun Williamson is an unalleviatedly grim Captain Hook. The script occasionally suggests that he might be a character who deserves a little sympathy. He has lost his hand and his pocket watch and would dearly like a kind mother like Wendy. But no sympathy is forthcoming so it's off to the crocodile with him.
Two minor characters are worth looking out for: Emily Watson as the Over-Acting Pirate; and Emily McAvoy in a non-speaking role as the Pirate Who Can't be Bothered. Great fun!