Peter Pan

LORNA MARSH Norwich Theatre Royal

LORNA MARSH

> Norwich Theatre Royal

Never work with animals or children, so the saying goes, but this year's Theatre Royal panto does both - and comes up trumps once again.

Okay, so the animals are actors dressed up but the children tackle the exhausting (and that's just for the audience) show with real professionalism.

The Norwich production has gained an astounding reputation over the past few years and the two main men behind the performance, lead actors and co-writers Rikki Jay and Richard Gauntlett, who also directs the show, seem boundless in their energy.

There are no holds barred with the production values of this year's “affectionately tweaked” Peter Pan and you know you are watching a quality show from the off.

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Even the opening titles are laser lit and the sets are picture perfect, down to the tiniest detail - the cosiness of the Darling children's bedroom contrasting with the outdoor sets of Neverland and the jungle to really suspend the audience's disbelief.

And the scene when Tinkerbell is saved is genuinely spine-tingling.

These touches, combined with a traditional format, is what makes the panto such a sure-fire winner for everyone, from the oldest member of the audience to the youngest.

In fact, it was interesting to see couples and groups of 20-somethings without the excuse of children, along with older people and their families as well as, of course, the youngsters.

The main thing that really stands out is that the cast genuinely seemed to be having the greatest fun - fun that is infectious enough to spread to those watching.

So, along with the so-bad-they're-good puns (look out for the fantastic HP Sauce non-joke joke) and the barrage of genuinely funny banter, the audience are allowed to feel part of the production.

There is not a single 'he's behind you' or 'oh no they're not' but when they are shouted out at inopportune times, the cast have the ability to turn them into some of the funniest moments of the show.

Jay, stealing the show as Smee, is the master of ad-libbing and banter, giving us the biggest belly laughs and emerging as a hero in my eight-year-old son's eyes.

And his rapport with Gauntlett makes for a great double-act.

Big names Derek Griffiths as Captain Hook, looking as young as in his 1970s Playaway heyday, and Jim McManus as the dame Delia the Cook also catch the spark, playing the audience perfectly.

There is the usual plethora of jokes on Ipswich Town FC as well as on Delia's 'let's be having you' rallying cry but, thankfully, none of the smut that cheapens other pantos.

And the singing and dancing of the actors, who include some up-and-coming local names such as Turlough Lloyd in a number of roles, as well as youngsters from the Central School of Dancing in Norwich, was faultless.

Long may the Gauntlett-Jay partnership with the theatre continue.

t Peter Pan runs until Sunday, January 15, and there are tickets still available for some performances on 01603 630000 or www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

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