Flying characters, fairy dust and the Chuckle Brothers – visitors to this year’s Wolverhampton panto, which opened today, are in for a real festive treat.
The Peter Pan cast have been rehearsing for nearly two weeks, and the first two performances of the glittering adventure were taking flight at the Grand Theatre today.
Those behind the swashbuckling performance of Peter Pan have created a truly magical adventure sure to be enjoyed by visitors young and old.
But pushing the boundaries when it comes to staging it is not without its difficulties.
Producers Qdos Entertainment have gone all out when it comes to creating a dazzling show and that has meant a tough job for Midlands-born choreographer, Steven Harris.
Speaking at yesterday’s dress rehearsal, he said: “The flying and the technical side of everything has been the most challenging thing with this – and the pirate fights.
“The flight is done with a group of people in the wing, just off the stage. They are programmed in on how high the character needs to go and how they take off and land.
“At one point we have got Wendy and Peter Pan flying, so that is two at the same time, which is difficult.
“Then there is the huge ship, which is so big it pretty much fills the width of the stage.
“It is a complete jigsaw how that comes on – we have to fly stuff out each time to get it in.”
Ticket sales for Peter Pan have already smashed the £1 million mark – matching the record which was achieved for the first time in the venue’s history last year.
Nearly 50,000 people have snapped up tickets to see headline act, The Chuckle Brothers, returning to the Grand after 22 years to play Gentleman Starkey and Mr Smee. Visitors can expect plenty of their usual ChuckleVision antics as they star alongside John Altman as Captain Hook.
Best known for playing ‘Nasty’ Nick Cotton in EastEnders, he recently reappeared on the BBC soap after half a decade away, but his character was killed off earlier this year.
Mr Harris – who worked on the venue’s 2012 panto, Jack and the Beanstalk – said he had enjoyed preparing for today’s performances with all the cast and had been impressed by their professionalism.
“The dancers are my favourites, but the character I have worked with most is John’s as of course, he is in all the fight scenes,” he explained.
“I have to say he is great, a real professional. He is patient, which makes my life a lot easier, and he loves to rehearse.
“For a star of the show he really enjoys it.”
Altman is joined in the cast by fellow soap star Lucy Evans, best known for playing the role of Lauren Wilson, the younger sister of Violet Wilson, in Coronation Street.
She will take the role of Tinkerbell and returns to the Grand Theatre following her appearance in the title role of Sleeping Beauty in 2013.
Also starring in the role of Wendy will be pantomime regular Hannah Nicholas. Her credits include Dorothy in The Chuckles of Oz, Catherine in Save The Last Dance For Me and the lead role in Cinderella at Theatre Royal, Plymouth.
The cast is also bolstered by Birmingham-born and Telford-raised Kimmy Edwards, who will play Tiger Lily, and Ross Carpenter as Pan.
There are also roles for four West Midland boys who have joined the professional cast. Archie Turner, aged eight, from Rowley Regis, will play Michael alongside James Shaw, 11, from Bishops Wood as John.
On alternate dates, eight-year-old George Passalacqua, from Bromsgrove, will play Michael, while Liam Hewitt, 10, from Kingswinford, will play John.
Meanwhile, bosses have revealed next year’s Wolverhampton pantomime will be Aladdin, with tickets on sale from January. Performances will run from December 10, 2016, until January 22, 2017.
Peter Pan runs until January 24. For tickets call 01902 429212
By Rob Cox