THIS year’s Christmas pantomime at the Beck Theatre, Hayes, welcomes EastEnders’ Adam Woodyatt (Ian Beale) to the stage as Captain Hook in Peter Pan.
Ghosts, pirates and even Hook himself venture into the crowds, taunting and goading any unsuspecting watcher. By moving the action off stage, the laughter, boos and, at times, screams, grow into an overwhelming barricade of taunts from the kids.
For those who do not wish to ‘get involved’, then this year’s Christmas offering might not be for you. After a well-choreographed skit in which the pirates throw pies in each other’s faces, they take off into the audience with water guns. If you thought that hiding away in the back would protect you from the light showers, think again.
The audience are encouraged to participate as much as possible, the highlight being when hundreds of foam bricks are distributed amongst the crowd, who are then encouraged to take aim and hurl them at Hook on stage. Children and adults equally enjoyed this.
When Woodyatt’s villain is not carefully sharpening the tip of his hook with a nail file, serenading ladies of the audience or making fun of the ‘children from Hayes’, he dishes out good-natured tellings-off to journalists such as myself for writing during his performance.
As he ventured through the audience, instructing me to ‘stop writing, madam,’ I do not know which my pride took more offensive to – being told to desist or being called ‘madam.’
The audience – as you would expect from a festive panto – dished out as good as they got and the EastEnders star, who seemed a natural on stage and revelled in his villainous new role, was a joy to watch.
Apart from the classic ‘Oh no you didn't, oh yes we did,’ audience quips, there are plenty of catchy sing-alongs for all to chant. The particular favourite for children came when Smee, played by Neal Wright, asked: ‘What should we do with a drunken sailor?’ The response being: ‘Shave his bum with a lady’s razor.’
Wright is wonderful and everyone seemed to find his comic mannerisms, prankster behaviour and unyielding enthusiasm had just the right amount of slapstick and originality.
All the integrity of this much-loved children’s classic is preserved, including appearances from the tick-tocking crocodile and well-acted performances from the lost boys.
But it is the weird and wonderful eclectic mix of modern references to things, such as Gangnam Style, Match of the Day and Ghostbusters, which will make it particularly memorable.
The orchestra, imaginative sets, impressive props and colourful, atmospheric lighting all add to the magical story-telling.
Abigail Matthews, as Wendy, had some beautiful solos and Samuel Parker’s energy in the role of the Boy Who Never Grew Up did not wane throughout what must have been an exhausting frenzy of singing and dancing.
The Beck’s production is a highly enjoyable experience that will leave you thinking happy thoughts for the rest of the evening – as long as you are not too tired from the audience participation, which includes belting out choruses from Dancing Queen, We Are Family and Is This The Way To Amarillo?
Just be sure you watch your back for those stray foam bricks, which may be heading your way from any eager-beavers at the back of the auditorium!