It’s panto season and for troops of children up and down the country trips to the theatre are underway. For pretty much all British children panto is often their first taste of the magic of theatre and live performance.So, do NOT underestimate its power and influence – for a couple of hours, children (and adults) can immerse themselves into a world of larger than life characters, total escapism, gasps, goodies, baddies and, of course, lots of fun and silliness.
This weekend I headed along to the Bolton Octagon theatre (just outside of Manchester) to see Peter Pan – the timeless classic by J M Barrie. My guests of honour and fellow critics were my God-daughter Omolola and her friend Josephine, both aged seven. This was their first trip to the theatre. To say they were excited is an understatement!
I still remember going to see my own first panto as a wee seven-year-old brownie – Cinderella at the Davenport Theatre and absolutely loving it. Thus, I was keen to ensure the girls’ first experience was equally special … and it was. The Octagon’s production of Peter Pan is thoroughly magical! Even the grown ups were instantly captivated by the story of the boy who never grew up, Neverland, Wendy, Tinkerbelle and not forgetting, Captain Hook…boooo!
“I do believe in fairies, I do believe in fairies…”
Being a classic children’s story it obviously has less of the bumps, japes and falling paint tins of a raucous “oh no he isn’t” type panto. However, it does have whoops, laughs, gasps and cheers in bucket-loads! The charm of Peter Pan is in the story and its message about the magic of childhood, making it a rather perfect panto for the young at heart… of all ages.
Excellent direction, a fabulous, simple yet clever set design and jump out of your seat sound/lighting effects, all made for a terrific experience.
Very special credit to the cast which was exceptional: Peter Pan was played by the super-talented Samuel Hargreaves who gave an energy packed performance. He had the audience gasping with his swashbuckling sword fighting skills too. Amy Noble who plays Wendy Darling carries the story brilliantly. She was shouldered by a wonderful, young and very professional supporting cast who all gave excellent performances. Not surprisingly, my guests totally loved Tinkerbelle, played by Anna Wheatley, who was adorable and generated lots of giggles and laughter.
We all love a ‘baddie’ in panto and the hugely talented Emmerdale actor Chris Villiers’ Captain Hook is the perfect combination of pompous and deliciously vengeful! Hook’s fellow pirates were a big hit with the audience too – all giving wonderfully kooky performances – very funny. The girls’ especially loved Mathew Hamper who is GREAT as pirate Smee and doubles up as the adorable Darling family doggy, Nana, very comically.
I highly recommend the show – the intimacy of the Bolton Octagon Theatre’s design really added to a wonderful atmosphere and experience too. A trip to the panto is a really special gift to children, especially these days when they are increasingly glued to TVs, laptops and computer games. It’s vital that the retelling of fairytales, mystical stories and classic children’s literature is kept alive.
Indeed, there’s something very heart-warming about hearing a chorus of wide-eyed children chanting “I do believe in fairies… I do believe in fairies…” and really meaning it!
Finally, the verdict from my seven-year-old critics was resolute: “Can we come back and see it again tomorrow?”. That’s the kind of review you can’t argue with! So, give your children a gift they’ll truly remember – treat them to Peter Pan and keep the magic alive.
Photography credit: Ian Tilton
Booking and further info: Peter Pan at the Bolton Octagon
General Enquiries: 01204 529407
Ticket Sales: 01204 520661
Address: Octagon Theatre
Howell Croft South