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Review: Peter Pan at the Epstein Theatre ****

It wouldn’t be Christmas without a visit to Neverland – because after all, who can put the ‘pan’ in to panto if not for Peter?

So step forward (or fly in perhaps) Lewis Pryor, promoted this year from comedy sidekick to pirate-beating titular hero in this very enjoyable trip past the second star on the right and straight on to morning.

Pryor proves an engagingly perky, nay cocky, swashbuckling boy who doesn’t want to grow up, and leads a uniformly strong cast of performers.

The Epstein panto, brought to the stage by LHK Productions, has had a reputation for casting reality stars and ‘faces’ over the past few years – people like Callum Best, Dan Osborne and Jordan Davies, nice lads who have brought a six pack and a game-for-it attitude but, I’m sure they’d agree, not a lot of acting experience….or ability.

Hallelujah then that Dane Bowers, erstwhile pop star, and DJ, producer and Celebrity Big Brother contestant, can act! Oh yes, he can. His Hook is a polite gentleman pirate as well as a kill-them-all baddie, he interacts with the audience, and he can also laugh at himself which is a necessity in panto.

Peter Pan - Men In Tights. Photographs by David Munn

He gamely throws himself in to an amusing Men in Tights routine, but is excused the panto humiliation of the inspired and very funny Peter and the Pans number of the second half, featuring Chris Barton’s energetic sidekick Smee and Pryor’s boy hero on either end of the pan-playing spectrum.

There may be some duff pan playing, but overall there isn’t a duff performance in the whole show, with each of the principals giving it their all.

The big voiced Joanne Harper and Georgia Austin are feisty role models as (a rather pleased with herself) Wendy and no-nonsense princess Tiger Lily, Claire Simmo keeps the story ticking along as the wand-waving Tinkerbell, and writer/director Michael Chapman is happily on form as the rudest dame on a Merseyside stage with a take-no-prisoners attitude to small people, and plenty of lines you can only hope go over the kids’ heads.

Peter, Wendy, John and Michael. Photo by David Munn

The Lost Boys, youngsters invited to open auditions for the roles, also shine.

It all feels perhaps a little less chaotic than usual, more polished, and as a result the action tick tocks along in brisk fashion, stopping now and again for a spot of audience participation.

There are some ongoing issues with the sound balance however, with the musical accompaniment all too often drowning out the vocals, particularly in the solo numbers, and a bit of start-stop faffing in the second half.

But as a start to the season, this Peter Pan is a festive winner.

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