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Peter Pan (Towngate Theatre, Basildon)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
When it works as it should, modern stage technology is a wonderful thing. When it goes wrong, then it's up to the sheer professionalism of the cast and stage crew to ensure that the audience continues its suspension of disbelief. This is especially important for a pantomime, often a child's first introduction to the magical world of live theatre.

At the performance I saw of Peter Pan at the Towngate Theatre (which is in the throes of a very smart upgrade for both front of house and backstage), it was the computerised lighting system which took it upon itself to go absolutely haywire. Simon Fielding, who plays Peter, explained what had gone wrong to the understanding audience and, with the rest of the cast, carried on with the show.

This version of J M Barrie's classic has been written by Brad Fitt to accommodate some updating. Mrs Darling (Sophie Ladds) is a raucous TOWIE wife on the razzle, not entirely sympathetic to her (step?) daughter Wendy (Victoria Farley) and briskly dismissive equally of her husband, the maid and the child-pleasing dog Nana. Bryan Torfeh doubles Mr Darling, who expects his trophy wife to be a miracle-working piece of perfection, and Captain Hook.

Farley plays Wendy as a much older sister to John and Michael; she gives the part a sympathetic dignity and has a very good singing voice. Fielding, who also directs, doesn't pretend to be a young boy, which adds a certain frisson to his relationship both with Wendy and with Julie Yammanee's Tinker Bell, whose sexual jealousy is given full rein. Torfeh obviously revels in Hook's gentlemanly nastiness, to meet his fate in the jaws of an extremely effective crocodile which stretches practically the whole width of the proscenium arch.

In this version, Smee is a she – Mrs Smee, the Dame role taken by Dave Short. Nikki Worrall has devised some fast-paced steps for the six adult dancers, led by Michael Jean-Marain, with spectacular lifts and nimble footwork. The band, under Kevin Oliver Jones, is corralled up on the balcony stage right which gives extra space for the performers and the revolving set. The children in the audience adored the flying sequences; one little boy even had his wish to attempt it fulfilled just before the end of the show.


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