Saturday, 2 January 2010

Peter Pan Pantomime Review Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall

Peter Pan
Tunbridge Wells
Assembly Hall Theatre
12 December 2009 - 3 January 2010

(performance seen 2 January 2010)

Cast (appearance order)

Captain Hook / Mr Darling - RAY MEAGHER
Tinker Bell - LUCY JOHNSON
Mrs Darling / Mermaid - SARAH JANE BUCKLEY
Lost boys and children - The talented youngsters from THE DEBORAH LAMB THEATRE SCHOOL & THE MCALLISTER-BROWN DANCE SCHOOL

We were meant to see this almost a fortnight ago but a considerable amount of snow made this impossible. We had to make do with a slightly restricted view as a result of the ticket exchange but this did not stop this being an enjoyable, entertaining show.
Ray Meagher had left the warmth of a sunny Christmas in Australia (where we all know him best as Alf Stewart in Home and away) in exchange for almost constant near freezing temperatures over 3 weeks in Tunbridge Wells - the man has to be slightly mad!
In Peter Pan he's the childrens' booing target for this years panto as Captain Hook whilst also taking on the role as the much more 'normal' Mr Darling.
He's a great baddie too but in a sort of lovable rogue sort of way. Tunbridge Wells appear to have avoided making Hook too dark and sinister.
He is constantly accompanied by his right hand man 'Smee' played by Christopher Pizzey. Chris is the somewhat camp comedy act of the evening and does a good job of taking part in water pistol attacks on the audience, being the constant joker and dimwitted right-hand-man of Hook and for being thoroughly entertaining during the customary 'kids on stage to earn goody bags' part of the show.
The Peter Pan story itself appears to have been kept very true to the original.
Pan is played by Jessica Punch. Not a name many will recognise but we have become very familiar with the exceptional talents this young lady has. Having already seen her in Jekyll and Hyde, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, 42nd Street and Singin' In The Rain in the last few years she has never failed to impress.
As the tomboyish Pan she does not disappoint. A strong, confident delivery of the script, flying across the theatre very gracefully and some very funny moments as she scrounged chocolates (Minstrels in particular) every time she ventured into the audience. Jessica Punch may not be a household name but she is always a delight to watch and a pleasure to meet. Coincidentally she started her training at the Dance Consortium in Tunbridge Wells so she must have felt very much at home in this production.
Tinkerbell (the fairy) is played by the very pretty Lucy Johnson - if every garden had a fairy like Lucy at the end of it there would be many a husband who was banned from gardening ever again! Seriously though she is perfectly cast here in looks ,acting and roller skating ability.
Peter Pan at The Assembly Hall Theatre Tunbridge Wells. Ray Meagher, Sarah Jane Buckley, Christopher Pizzey, Jessica PunchMrs Darling and The Mermaid are portrayed by ex Hollyoaks star Sarah Jane Buckley who happened to be celebrating her birthday on this day. As the rather demure Mrs Darling she is great but she really shines as the mermaid where she gets the chance to do a stand-up-comedy routine of her own.
We found her incredibly funny and entertaining. A northern girl with a down to earth sense of humour and with the ability to laugh at yourself went down very well with us.
It was a bit strange that many in the audience did not react to many jokes, not just Sarah Jane's but from the cast in general. Even the most straightforward of one-liners seemed to go 'over the heads' of many and I lost track of how many times a kid behind me said "I don't get it".
From talking to cast members over the years I know audiences vary greatly in their reactions to humour but tonight's crowd seemed to have had a bit of a humour bypass. It must be infuriating if you are on stage getting such mixed reactions.
It was a shame we didn't get the chance to meet Sarah Jane after the show due to a cast party but perhaps we will get the chance in her forthcoming Over The Rainbow tour as Eva Cassidy?
Musical surprise of the night came from Sheryl Lafferty (playing sweet little Wendy) who launched into an outstanding version of Alexandra Burke's hit Bad Boys. Not being a fan of Alexandra Burke, Sheryl I would rather listen to and watch your version any day.
All in all a great Pantomime with a very fine cast. It's one of those shows which takes 15 minutes or so to warm up whilst all the characters are introduced and the background to the story explained but it was still a very entertaining night out - even with a restricted view!
I should finish with a personal thank you to the friendly Ray Meagher for taking time out from the celebrations of the after-show party to not only come and see the half a dozen of us who had wished to meet him. Not only did he not rush anybody but he let us get autographs/pics in the warmth of the building rather than to continue to endure the freezing sub zero temperatures outside.
4 and a half out of 5 for Peter Pan at The Assemby Hall Theatre Tunbridge Wells
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