Panto goes down the Pan! – Covid-19 outbreak forces cancellation of Peter Pan

The Chrysalis Theatre has been forced to cancel its production of Peter Pan after junior members of the pantomime cast caught the Covid-19 virus.

The show's writer and director, Steven Gordon-Wilson of 1702 Productions, said it had been a "very difficult decision" as the theatre space is shared with vulnerable groups and the company felt cancellation was the only option. The pantomime – which opened on Saturday 4 December – was due to run until 2 January but it closed on Sunday 12 December.

Mr Gordon-Wilson said the theatre (which has 200 seats), would offer refunds to ticket holders and that it hoped to reopen for other productions soon. He added that the team were"gutted" to have to cancel. "We're heartbroken, but we were just not comfortable that we were going to be able to run the thing safely," he said.

The cast and crew would still be paid, Mr Gordon-Wilson said. "We know how disappointing this is for many and that the show's closure was a very difficult decision for all concerned. We trust that everyone who wants a refund for advance paid tickets will receive this quickly."

Pantomime antics: Steve Hewlett and 'Arthur Lager' (aka Mr Smee and Grandad Smee respectively) manage to avoid Mr Blobby as he wrestles with Captain Hook (CJ De Mooi)

Peter Pan flies into The Chrysalis Theatre and gets Christmas off to a flying start

Monday 6 December 2021

Look for the second star on the right, then go straight on 'till morning and you'll arrive at Milton Keynes in time to enjoy Peter Pan at The Chrysalis Theatre, writes Alan Wooding.

Along the way you'll spot some familiar and not-so-familiar characters who play out this popular festive pantomime based on J M Barrie's original story and specially scripted and directed by Steven Gordon-Wilson.

It features a loveable Wendy, the dastardly Captain Hook, a glittering fairy Tinker Bell plus Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up, and surprisingly… Mr Blobby! Yes, that bright pink, yellow spotted character with those goggly green eyes has come out of retirement to cause chaos and mayhem.

Blobby has an electronically enhanced voice which utters just one word... "Blobby!" Having proved so popular in the early 1990s, Mr Blobby was synonymous with Noel Edmonds' House Party and Peter Pan is his first panto appearance since 2004, so where's he been hiding?

Packed with comical storytelling and silliness, last night's version of Peter Pan – which comes courtesy of 1702 Productions Ltd – is a pantomime which provides plenty of fun and laughter for both adults and children alike.

In the title role of Peter Pan is professional dancer, singer, actress and the show's choreographer Lucy-Rose Rollason who also has her own stage school in rural Norfolk. First appearing by flying high above the stage attached to a wire, Lucy also displayed her acrobatic skills with numerous somersaults yet still managed to sing.

The Darling children, Wendy, Michael and John, meet Peter Pan for the first time

Equally talented is Steve Hewlett, a former Britain’s Got Talent finalist. Ventriloquist Steve plays an authentic Mr Smee and is accompanied by his trusty sidekick and his right-hand-man, puppet Arthur Lager whose quips and one-liners made him an hilarious Grandad Smee. Steve was also great with young children from the audience in the traditional 'Old MacDonald' sequence just before the finale while he also got the audience shouting out whenever he appeared.

Playing the evil Captain Hook is former television Egghead and professional quizzer Connagh Joseph 'CJ' de Mooi. He completed the headline cast by playing the dastardly Captain Hook and he really revelled in the character and especially with all those boos… while surprisingly he hasn't got a bad voice either!

The three Darling children – Wendy (Cara Bo), John (Alyssa Denehan) and Michael (Harvey Smith) – are swept away to Neverland after Tinker Bell (Katie Phizacklea) applies some fairy dust while the role of shipmate Starkey belonged to popular children’s entertainer Kev Stevens who performed just a single magic trick when I'm sure he's got a bigger repertoise. In fact Kev and Lucy-Rose come to the production as students of the British Pantomime Academy, an organisation set up and run by MK pantomime favourite, Kev Orkian.

However for me the star of the show was Luke Byeford who had numerous costume changes as Mrs Smee, and was the perfect traditional pantomime dame. With a great voice, his sexy Copacabana number while surrounded by the Lost Boys – all youngsters from Team Smee and members of The Rebecca Marie Academy of Dance – was a real showstopper!

There Ain't Nothing Like A Dame: Luke Byeford in full voice as Mrs Smee.

Musically we were taken from Singin' In The Rain, to Hairspray's catchy Can't Stop The Beat, The Sun'll Come Out Tomorrow from Annie and the recent catchy chart-topping Wellerman sea shanty which was reprised for the finale.

Other key members of the cast were Jono Andrews as Goliath who was accompanied by the Strictly Come Dancing theme each time he appeared while Eveey Ruth played Nancy who was also responsible for bringing along her dog Pasha, Captain Hook's ships dog named Fish.

There were a few problems with the sound and especially Lillia Grace's microphone. Her voice sometimes disappeared in her role as Tiger Lily, one of Peter's trusty companions.

Being picky, the standard 'If I Were Not Upon The Stage' skit needed a bit more rehearsal time while if Blobby's knockabout antics continue in the same vein, then a permanent set repairer might be needed. Meanwhile the four principal dancers didn't need to look so serious, after all, they're in a happy family Pan-tomime!

Unlike many pantos, the classic story of the boy who never grows up is not lost and remained close to the original. The story of Peter Pan certainly has everything – aerial flying, real animals, a celebrity headline cast and of course, a snappy crocodile – while it's all delivered at an affordable price.

Peter Pan runs for approximately 2 hours 30 minutes and plays The Chrysalis Theatre twice daily (except Tuesdays) until Sunday 2 January 2022 and for tickets please see 1702 Production's dedicated theatre website at https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/whats-on/milton-keynes/the-chrysalis-theatre/peter-pan/e-zjmddo?fbclid=IwAR1NQAYJuY-eXZX_ad0XN0Q2_LWzF_Or8iYcOsfMkbpLosYCOR0mgdbRVGc