The Urban Guide to the Countryside
Sussex Edition

Muddy reviews: Peter Pan, The Hawth, Crawley

13 Dec 2016

Peter Pan seems to be the panto of choice for Sussex this year, with Crawley, Worthing, Chichester and Hastings all staging the tale of the boy who never grew up. At the top of the county The Hawth’s Peter Pan opened in Crawley last week and I took an eight and a nine-year-old along.

Excitement was high even as we hit the festively decorated lobby with the boys searching for Peter on the poster and upon not finding him (the celebs having taken precedence) poring over the programme to seek the actor out. Other kids were waving newly-purchased light up pirate swords.

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Michael J Batchelor as Mrs Smee

By the interval, full of grins, the boys were enthusiastically discussing who their favourite characters were.  Inevitably the dame (Mrs Smee) and CBeebies Swashbuckle stars Richard David-Caine and Joseph Elliott – who unsurprisingly play comic pirates in the panto and have most interaction with the audience – won the day.

In fact the cast was strong all round and those with telly backgrounds had a split of child and adult interest. Shaun Williamson (best known for playing Barry in EastEnders and himself in Extras) was a dandy Captain Hook and there were a couple of fun references to his TV career: “Don’t call me Barry!”

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Swashbuckle’s Richard David-Caine and Joseph Elliott with Shaun Williamson

Tinkerbell can be a soppy part in the wrong hands but another EastEnder – Emma Barton (Honey in the soap) gave the jealous,  sparkly Converse-wearing fairy the perfect amount of sass and her famous near-death scene retained plenty of humour.

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Emma Barton’s sassy Tinkerbell

Michael J Batchelor as Mrs Smee, was obviously an experienced panto dame, completely comfortable in the part (if not physically comfortable in the increasingly ridiculous costumes) and able to take small technical hitches in his stride. “Ere, put down that pasty will you and give me a shove,” he called off stage at one point when his rowboat briefly floundered.

This panto doesn’t go the woman-playing-Pan route and Sam Lupton as Peter along with Elizabeth Carter as Wendy (with the bonus of a lovely signing voice) did good turns as gleeful overgrown children.

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Hilary O’Neil leads the mermaids

For me a highlight was actress and TV impressionist Hilary O’Neil, who plays several parts, doing her cracking Cheryl Cole mermaid. I must admit I also enjoyed (no, really) the sketch with no fewer than 35 fish puns, plus the many references to the artifice of theatre:

“Is she always this quiet?”

“Her part’s not big enough for a microphone.”

Peter Pan is a quaint tale in places – there’s the oddity of a child going to mother other children for a start, plus the whole rather un-pc ‘Red Indian’ tribe – but the script rifted nicely off the dated Victorian era setting: “I’ve done 28 costume changes and I’m going back to be your servant?”

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The favourite parts for the boys were Captain Hook getting his comeuppance, the breakdancing dog at the start and anything involving the dame. They were beside themselves in the “it’s behind you” sketch and despite the late hour (the performance didn’t end till 9.40) the pic ‘n’ mix fuelled eight-year-old threw himself into the audience sing-off (“never attempted before in live theatre”) towards the end.

There seemed to be fewer and briefer cast songs than some other pantos which I thought was a plus as I noticed these tended to be the points where the boys got a bit fidgety, though the musical sequences were generally humorously reworked pop standards.

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Obligatory interval pick ‘n’ mix

There’s a simple revolving central set and plenty of flying with a projection screen helping to give the illusion of the Darling children on their cables swooping over London. A couple of kids even got high fives as Peter Pan flew over the audience at the end.

All in all a great panto with a strong cast and the good rake on the seats at the Hawth means you should have a decent view from all areas. The boys were still enthusing about it the next day.

Peter Pan is on at The Hawth, Crawley until Jan 2. Tickets are from £13.75, or £11.25  for children and pensioners and there’s a variety of show times but most dates now have limited availability so be quick! 01293 553636  parkwoodtheatres.co.uk

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The Urban Guide to the Countryside -
Sussex Edition