I am sure many of you have read the very sad news this week that Karen Simpson, artistic director and chief executive at the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, is leaving her role in February next year owing to an incurable cancer diagnosis. Karen joined the venue in 2013, at a time of dire financial circumstances and has made a monumental contribution to turning the business around with her 30 plus years of experience, bringing wonderful touring productions to the region and directing the annual pantomime. Her expertise will be greatly missed.
Peter Pan was chosen to be this year’s pantomime as Heritage volunteers had discovered that its author, J M Barrie, had visited the Theatre Royal but in all its 200-year history, the theatre had never performed the fantasy. We begin with a Star Wars-esque opening with the usual local references to Risby and Bury St Edmunds, making it feel closer to home. Jungle drums announce the arrival of the larger- than- life dame, Tiger Lily (television actor, Chris Clarkson), cue the “Roar!” from the audience. Wendy’s frustrating home life is made more exciting by the beautiful singing of “The Magic that Surrounds You” which soon transports her away on her exciting adventures which could just be a dream. Tink(erbell) delights with her sparkly green skirt, evocative of her jealous nature.
Luminous images of the characters flying are brought into sharp focus against a black backdrop as they hilariously encounter most of the planets in all of a jumble on their travels.
Peter is played by local actor Lauren Chinery who is making her energetic debut at the theatre. Her stunning singing and charismatic swashbuckling were a highlight.
Will the lost boys succeed in fending off cunning Mad Maud, old adversary Capt. Hook and his fiendish band of pirates?
This a production which engages the audience on many levels, not least in shouting out the habitual “It’s Behind You!” but the corny, fishy gags, singalong theme of “We are Family” and urge to warn the company of danger with a rousing “Cockadoodle doo!”
All the costumes and puppets have been made specially for the show. I particularly enjoyed the inventive crocodile. Credit to Dawn Allsopp for its wonderful design. The entire cast have had only two weeks to rehearse to carry off an amazing run of 84 performances. I marvelled at their professionalism in such a short timescale.
The show has great energy, lessons to be learned on growing up and friendship, hilarious slapstick moments and children being invited onto the stage to join in with the actors.
The panto is a near sell-out, so hurry up and purchase your tickets. You won’t be disappointed – oh no you won’t!
Peter Pan runs at the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds until 19th January. For more information or to book visit www.theatreroyal.org/peter-pan.