It’s another personal triumph for Michael Chapman, who if there’s any justice will be remembered in years to come as a Liverpool theatrical legend. Not only has he written and directed the show, his pantomime dame also commands the stage every time he appears. This year he’s the acid-tongued Nurse Betty, nanny to the Darling family (and later Long John Betty, when he reappears as a female pirate in Neverland). She’s the kind of nurse who can suggest to Wendy it would be a laugh if they shaved off her younger brothers’ eyebrows while they’re asleep. She looks grotesque (‘The last time I was someone’s type I was donating blood’), and her caustic one-liners power the show and are integral to its success.
This is a Peter Pan aimed squarely at a Liverpool audience. In the opening speech Tinkerbell (Radio City’s Claire Simmo) warns us that Neverland is ‘more dangerous than Norris Green’, and Pirate Smee gets the entire audience bellowing ‘Sound, lad’ every time he appears. When Captain Hook says the manner of Peter Pan’s demise will be ‘painful, drawn out and extremely depressing’ another character comments, ‘like watching Everton then’. One or two of the jokes seemed a shade bluer than usual (which is saying something) and there was no shortage of political incorrectness, but fortunately it all appeared to sail harmlessly over the heads of the many children present, who had a whale of a time cheering, booing, hissing and laughing their heads off.
Liverpool’s own Lewis Pryor (a 2016 Britain’s Got Talent finalist) gives a confident, crowd-pleasing performance as a Scouse Peter Pan. Wendy is played by Joanne Harper, an assured actress and a very good singer. Dane Bowers (once of 90s boyband Another Level) is Captain Hook and his deep, gravelly voice helps make him a very effective villain. Georgia Austin’s Tiger Lily has some very funny lines and her excellent performance ensures they get maximum laughs. Chris Barton’s likeable Smee establishes a warm relationship with the audience from the off. It’s a large company and special praise is due to the many child actors and dancers, who performed superbly and delighted the audience. It’s great to see the Epstein collaborating with several local dance schools and acting studios, giving these youngsters the chance to appear on a big stage.
Memorable songs include a Captain Hook-led Don’t Rock The Boat, Nurse Betty’s hilarious Respect (in which the chorus R – E – S – P – E – C – T becomes R – S – P – C – A, with a verse about animals) and On The Wings Of Love, a duet by Peter Pan and Wendy, who – very appropriately – are flying when they sing it. There are some other clever flying stunts, and colourful sets and costumes add to the enjoyment. Everyone was on their feet singing and dancing at the end, and there were no doubts: the Epstein had delivered again.
**** The Epstein does it again – a gloriously entertaining panto
Photos: David Munn
Peter Pan continues at the Epstein Theatre, Liverpool until Monday 1 January 2018.