Familar faces fly into the tale of Neverland

Peter Pan at Norwich Theatre Royal

Peter Pan at Norwich Theatre Royal - Credit: Archant

Norwich Threatre Royal's Peter Pan features a host of familiar faces - from long time panto favoruite Richard Gauntlett to two young stars returning to play Peter Pan and Mrs Darling just weeks after starring in West Side Story. Simon Parkin reports.

Peter Pan at Norwich Theatre Royal

Peter Pan at Norwich Theatre Royal - Credit: Archant

Treading the boards of the Norwich Theatre Royal stage in West Side Story proved such a positive experience for two of the cast members, they have returned to the city to take on the roles of Peter Pan and Tiger Lily in the Christmas panto.

Charlotte Baptie, who played Rosalia in West Side Story, is the boy who never grew up, Peter Pan, while Sinead Kenny, who is Consuela in the musical, has taken on the dual roles of Tiger Lily and Mrs Darling.

They have joined an all-star cast which includes Kevin Kennedy, still best remembered as Coronation Street's Curly Watts, CBeebies presenter Sid Sloane, Cromer Pier favourite Ben Langley and the venue's panto mainstay Richard Gauntlett.

Ruth Betteridge, who played Cinderella in last year's show, has also returned as Wendy.

Charlotte is in typically fine voice for her role as Peter Pan as she has an operatic background having trained in Vocal Performance with the Trinity Laban Conservatoire through a mentor scheme at English National Opera. Previous musical roles have included Phyllis in Iolanthe and Melissa in Princess Ida with the Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company at Buxton Opera House.

She is thrilled to have made a quick return to the city for Christmas: 'The Norwich panto is one of the biggest and best in the country so I am really happy to be a part of it.

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'Being here in West Side Story was amazing. This was our last venue and we'd been touring for over a year, so it was mixed emotions — we're all tired from a long run but you become like a family on tour. Norwich was a lovely venue to finish on and it made it a little less hard to leave when you know you are coming back again.'

Charlotte said she was thrilled to be finally taking on a 'trouser role' having not done one before. 'I'm really excited to be playing a boy — that's the thing I've been looking forward to most - and the flying too. I've not done any of that before so that was going to be the hardest learning experience.'

She has worked with Richard Gauntlett in Gilbert and Sullivan presentations and said: 'Richard has all sorts of things planned for the staging with lots of special effects, so it's going to be hard work but lots of fun too.'

After graduating in musical theatre, Sinead made her professional theatre debut in 9 to 5, visiting the Theatre Royal in February 2013 during the musical's UK tour. She has played Tiger Lily before, in a 2010 Peter Pan panto, while other theatre credits include Christmas in New York, the Olivier Awards 2011 and the Not Forgotten Society's 90th anniversary concert.

She said: 'Getting the part of Tiger Lily has been a big surprise and I am really, really happy to be doing it. I think the character is a strong independent woman. She's very sassy and feisty, not your standard Disney Princess who is looking for love, although she does fancy Peter Pan. But she is strong on her own terms and not scared of the pirates or Captain Hook, so it will be fun to act, and I get to do as much dancing and singing as possible in the role.

'I've enjoyed being back in Norwich as much as my first time here last year. I love the Theatre Royal.

'The stage is probably the perfect size and we always have fantastic audiences here. West Side Story sold out most nights and we have had a great reception at the end of each show, so I've been looking forward to being back here at Christmas when it is all really festive.'

Mark Hazell, of Norwich Theatre Royal, said: 'We and the audiences have been very impressed with the high standard of singing, dancing and acting from Charlotte and Sinead in West Side Story here. We're delighted they have joined our panto cast after what must be one of the longest auditions in history, having been seen on our stage nightly over a two-week period.'

A mainstay of the Norwich Theatre Royal panto cast who charmed audiences with his poignant and knockabout performance as Buttons last Christmas, Richard Gauntlett is back again playing the role of Smee in Peter Pan.

The popular performer has also written and is directing the show once again; making Peter Pan the 14th Norwich Theatre Royal pantomime he has been a part of.

'Smee is a fantastic character. He is a pirate who does not really want to be a pirate,' he says of his role.

Richard said last year's panto Cinderella had been fantastic fun and he is hoping this year will proved equally popular.

'We have had so much positive audience feedback last year. People loved it. From a personal perspective, it was also the happiest pantomime I have ever worked on. The cast and crew were fantastic and it was lots of fun.'

Cinderella sold over 59,630 seats by the middle of the final week, 5,200 more than the total sales for the 2012-13 pantomime Aladdin.

Hopes are high that Peter Pan will proved to be equally successful.

Adding comedy to the production is children's TV favourite Sid Sloane has taken on the role of the Dame — while a familiar face to local audiences, Cromer Pier favourite Ben Langley, playing comedy pirate Starkey.

Sid is best known as one of the popular presenters on the CBeebies channel where his natural talent and incredible energy makes him a firm favourite with viewers. He grew up in South London starting his working life as a sales assistant for Laura Ashley and then took on other sales jobs before deciding performing was his forte working as a postman to pay his way through drama school.

He then took on a wide range of roles in productions as diverse as the world stage premiere of Withnail And I, Shakespeare plays and the UK tour of the Roald Dahl classic The Twits. But it was the CBeebies job that shot him to fame and he has juggled regular appearances on the channel with radio voice-over work, roles in BBC Radio Four dramas, TV and radio presenting, and developing educational aids to help with maths learning in the classroom.

Meanwhile Ben is no stranger to the world of panto having starred in over a dozen of them as well as working extensively as an actor and performer in a host of productions including Franco Zefferelli's Il Pagliacci at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. He owes a lot of his performing ability to spending 17 years as a street entertainer in the tough environment of the Covent Garden cobblestones.

He is also no stranger to Norfolk proving to be a popular cast-member in the Cromer Seaside Special Variety Show in 2012 as well as being part of the creative team writing sketches for both the summer and Christmas productions there. He also writes, directs and stars in the Ha Ha shows which poke fun at different characters and eras from history, and trod the boards at Norwich Theatre Royal opposite Joe Pasquale in Ha Ha Holmes at the venue last year.

n Peter Pan, Norwich Theatre Royal, until January 18, various times, £21-£5.50, 01603 630000, theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

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