Birmingham Hippodrome is famous around the UK for the quality and production values of its pantomime. The scale of the theatre allows producers to take the format to the next level - and the 2018 production of Peter Pan certainly doesn't disappoint!
The atmosphere around the city and in the corridors of the theatre is palpable and every generation - from young kids to grandparents - have a sense of magic and excitement that's infectious. There's something very special about panto, both within the country as a tradition but within Birmingham as a spectacle.
The story is one that's much loved by so many people. Based loosely on the traditional tale, the show see's Peter (Jaymi Hensley, Union J) in the titular role and singing sensation, Jimmy Osmond, as his arch nemesis - Captain Hook. Both Hensley and Osmond excel, with Osmond's rendition of 'Crazy Pirates' being a particular crowd favourite. His ability to send himself up and - importantly when you're playing opposite Matt Slack - to be sent up is what makes him the perfect choice for the role of Captain Hook.
Hensley was - and I mean this sincerely! - a pleasant surprise. Far more than a 'pop star name; to bring the kids into the theatre, his vocal ability sets him apart amongst so many of his peers - without a doubt he needs to forge a West End career.
Meera Syal (The Kumars at Number 42) takes on the role of the Magical Mermaid. Having recently completed a four-month stint as the evil orphan owner Miss Hannigan in the West End production of Annie, this is Syal's first steps into the world of pantomime and I sincerely hope it won't be her last. Bouncing perfectly off the other leads - Matt Slack in particular - this forum is the perfect one for Syal to show why she's had such longevity in her career.
Talking of Matt Slack...! The Hippodrome favourite is back for another year - his sixth consecutive one in fact - and is, quite simply, exceptional. Some people just have funny bones and Matt is a joy to watch from beginning to end. There's not many performers, who get a response like Slack, simply for arriving on stage but its clear that Birmingham have taken the Devonian in as one of their own. An absolute joy from start to finish, Matt was made for pantomime and long may his reign at the Hippodrome continue!
Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist, Sascha Williams, and amazing acrobatic-troupe The Timbuktu Tumblers were both brilliant showpiece acts. Having a time out from proceedings to watch both parties; admittedly with a lump in your throat, was a smart move by producers and brought something markedly different to the Hippodrome, justifying its top spot in the panto marketplace.
There should also be a special mention for Cassie Compton (Wicked, Les Miserables) who stars as Wendy. Although Cassie's name isn't in lights above the door, I was excited to see her again after she wowed the audience in last years UK tour of The Wedding Singer. She didn't disappoint this evening and gave us a traditional and well crafted take on the role of Wendy. Suffice to say that, in the pantomime version of the story, the character isn't as prominent as in the traditional interpretation - however her theatrical credentials were soon apparent and her beautiful singing voice was an inspired piece of casting.
Make no bones about it, pantomime is a hard slog. Audiences simply won't accept cloth scenery and pound shop costumes. Staging Peter Pan is, in many ways, more elaborate, intense and spectacular than any West End musical you'll see. The sets are lavish, the lighting awe inspiring and the production values, both visually and audibly, something every member of the company should be immensely proud of. I don't want to spoil the story but there's pyrotechnics, magic, flying 'things' and a soundtrack that you'll be humming along to in no time.
This is a proper party spectacular that will have you laughing until you cry and smiling until your face hurts. But that's what pantomime is all about - right?!
Peter Pan plays at Birmingham Hippodrome until Sunday 27th January 2019. For more information, or to get your tickets, head online to birminghamhippodrome.com.