Venue: Sunderland Empire

“All children, except one, grow up.”

 

So opens JM Barrie’s classic book Peter Pan, the magical tale of the little boy who refuses to tow the party line and get an office job.

 

It has all the ingredients for the perfect Panto – a daring hero fighting swashbuckling pirates in an enchanted land beyond the stars.

 

Emmerdale star and Sunderland’s own James Baxter stars as Peter Pan – swooping on through the nursery window of the Darling family home to whisk Wendy (Keeran Rose Greener) and her brothers off to his Neverland home.

 

Baxter is endearing as the wide-eyed adventurer, and he and the delightfully sweet Greener make a charming couple. Pity then that their ending is somewhat downbeat – no finale walk down wedding for these two.

 

John Challis (aka Boycie from ‘Only Fools and Horses’) ventures out of Peckham aboard the Jolly Roger to headline as the dastardly Captain Hook. It seems to take him a while to warm up, but soon he is awash with boos and hisses – the mark of a good villain if ever there was one.

 

The show, however, belongs to the dim-witted Smee (Steve Walls) and the object of his affections Nurse Nora (Steve Luck). Walls is energetic and likeable, immediately engaging with the children and leading the audience-participation hi-jinks that ensue.

 

Decked out in a series of eye-watering outfits, Darling family nurse turned ship’s cook Nora is a treat from start to finish. And when Luck isn’t making us laugh, chances are he has himself or fellow cast members in fits of giggles, which delights the crowd and makes us love him all the more.

 

The show is as visually impressive as you could expect from the Sunderland Empire, with bright costumes, large sets and technical jiggery-pokery – although Tinkerbell was a bit of a disappointment. The talented Company perform the smattering of musical numbers with gusto, all tightly choreographed by Tricia Darns.

 

While the pace did flag at times, overall this delivered everything you could want from a family Panto. Fun-filled, funny and with lively performances Peter Pan will have you - dare  I say it? - hooked!