Review: Peter Pan (Birmingham Hippodrome)
Meera Syal stars with Jimmy Osmond in this year's pantomime in Birmingham
Birmingham's panto may be the last to open each year but it's never the last in line. With an all-star cast, lavish sets and costumes, plenty of slapstick and a few special effects, the QDOS show never fails to please. Directed and produced by Michael Harrison, the team know what Birmingham audiences like and they ensure it's on stage by the bucketful in this Peter Pan.
Star rating this year goes to singing and stage legend Jimmy Osmond taking on the role of the evil Captain Hook. Osmond has the dastardly lines, the dastardly gestures and the dastardly look about him but he's just far too nice to become a really convincing Mr Evil. The audience boos him but they love him at the same time – particularly when a wardrobe malfunction resulted in his dastardly moustache falling off!
New to panto is Wolverhampton writer and actress Meera Syal playing the Magical Mermaid. Layering on the Black Country accent, she calls the audience her 'babs' and shimmies around in a fish tail cracking seafood jokes but her role doesn't give Syal an opportunity to show what she's really capable of.
Union J singer Jaymi Hensley is the dashing Peter Pan, who flies to the rescue of damsels in distress and yet refuses to grow up, throwing in a few solid tunes for good measure.
But dominating the show, for the sixth year in a row, is comedian Matt Slack as Smee. Slack has become a firm favourite with the Birmingham panto audiences and his roles have gradually grown over the years so that he pretty much holds centre stage throughout most of the show. He's such a crowd-pleaser that Slack has already been announced in next year's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
The team are given great support by Kellie Gnauck as the jealous fairy Tinker Bell, Cassie Compton as the oh-so-sensible Wendy and Walsall actor Imogen Brooke as a feisty Tiger Lily.
Thrown into the action are the Timbuktu Tumblers whose acrobatic skills are breath-taking and Sascha Williams and Stephanie Nock as the drunken pirates with Williams' daredevil balancing act literally having the audience on the edge of its seat.
The sets, designed by Ian Westbrook and 3D Creations, are bright and colourful with effective use of screen imagery and some fantastic special effects including scooters flying upside down over the audience and giant crocodiles.
There are plenty of showstopping songs with lively choreography by Alan Harding and an enthusiastic and energetic cast keeps the story moving. Harrison also ensures lots of topical allusions from Harry Redknapp in the jungle to Donald Trump in the White House and a Brexit joke thrown in for good measure.
By the end, as the cast perform an extra raft of songs, the audience is on its feet dancing and clapping along, clearly having enjoyed the panto for another year.