It’s now 115 years since Peter Pan was published. So if the boy who wouldn’t grow up actually had, he’d be the oldest man in the world by now.
But despite the years that have passed, JM Barrie’s tale of pirates, crocodiles, Indians and lost boys continues to enchant audiences, especially at Christmas where Peter regularly puts the pan in to panto.
Time has flown at the Empire too where it’s now 10 years – 10 YEARS - since the theatre hooked Henry Winkler for its festive baddie.
If ‘The Fonz’ was a bit too nice to be properly mean, the Empire’s latest Captain Hook Louis Emerick (who also donned the curly blow and frock coat at St Helens last season) clearly relishes the chance to strut and snarl his way around the stage – albeit with a knowing wink and a twinkle in his eye.
The Empire always claims it puts on the biggest, most lavish panto in the city, and visually it’s no idle boast.
This is an extravagantly staged production with a pirate galleon that appears to have come straight from Las Vegas’ Treasure Island, and a dinosaur-sized tick-tocking crocodile that is properly scary….even if it is accompanied by an energetic company rendition of Elton John’s bubbly Crocodile Rock (of course).
Above: Tony Maudsley and Louis Emerick. Top: Adam McCoy and Cristina Hoey (Wendy). Photos by Mark McNulty
Meanwhile the sound desk cranks it up close to 11 for some of the show’s song and dance numbers.
While Adam McCoy’s breezy Pan is the titular hero, he only makes fleeting appearances over the course of an evening which is dominated by comedy in the form of double act of John Evans as Smee and Tony Maudsley as Cutlass Kenneth the camp crimper.
The pair are patently having lots of fun together, although whether the younger members of the audience fully engage with and appreciate all their routines is another matter.
Peter Pan. Photo by Mark McNulty
They’re at their most successful when they pick on hapless members of the audience, or slip in to riotous slapstick mode - particularly in the second half’s fast-paced, cleverly choreographed If I Were Not in Neverland routine with Asa Elliott’s Tiger Billy and Niki Evans as Mimi the Magical Mermaid.
The proper Peter Pan plot is pretty much done, dusted and dispensed with in the speedy first half, with the post-interval action given over to a series of set piece songs and silliness including a strange, trippy visit under the sea, the aforementioned slapstick scene, a recap of the plot by Evans that feels a bit like filler, and a final sword-fighting showdown on the Jolly Roger.
Overall it succeeds in offering big, bright, colourful Christmas entertainment for children – and for boys and girls who don’t want to grow up.