Panto returns to the Sunderland Empire this year with Peter Pan. Although there is a large amount of audience participation, Peter Pan is not a panto in the strictest sense of the word and the production values identify this.

The story sticks to convention as we first meet Peter Pan as he enters the Darlings bedroom and takes the children to Never Neverland. At the island Hook becomes jealous of Wendy (Victoria Boden) and captures Tiger Lily (Courtney-Mae Briggs) then tries to poison Pan before Tinkerbell (a roller skating Elisha Covell) saves him. Hook finally meets his match with a close encounter with a crocodile and all ends happily.

Tom Lister, as Mr. Darling and Captain Hook, is a revelation, proving there is life after Emmerdale. He has great stage presence and brings the comic side of Hook out with ease, in a blink of an eye changing from evil to hilarious. It is hard to believe this is his first panto season; it will certainly not be his last. Likewise, Katy Ashworth as Peter Pan brings a cheeky freshness to the role and clearly has a head for heights. When these performers are both on stage things move along nicely but writer Andrew Ryan (while staying true to J.M. Barrie) provides the cast little to work with and it is full credit to the leads, new to pantomime, that they manage so well with the material.

Sy Thomas, as Smee, does connect with the audience but again his material sadly does not do his performance the justice it deserves. While Sarah Jane Buckley, as Mrs. Darling and the Mermaid, is an old hand at this production and with her excellent singing voice and warm personality, she manages to push things along. While there is no doubting the abilities of the cast, Director Sarah Redmond allows this production to be over long and nowhere near as slick as it could be.

The audience certainly appreciated the show, but the numerous trips to the toilet by children and adults alike and constant chatter showed their attention was not being held. Hopefully things will tighten up as the run progresses, but there is never any doubting the quality of the cast, it is the production values that need addressing.