The Millennium Forum had promised that, this being City of Culture year, the panto would be bigger and better than ever.
So it was with high expectations that I brought my family (including my 42 year old husband who had never been to a panto before in his life) along to catch this year’s offering Peter Pan.
It’s a well known and well loved story - of a boy who never wants to grow up and his friendship with the Darling children - especially Wendy, who he invites to Neverland to be a mother figure to the ‘lost boys’ - a tribe of young boys played very ably by an enthusiastic cast of local children.
From the outside there was magic in the air as Mikey Heath - as Peter himself - flew onto the stage and was soon joined in mid flight by Wendy (Fiona Carty) and the Darling brothers John and Michael as the stage transformed for the nursery in the Darling household in London to a star lit sky and onwards to one of the most impressive sets ever seen at a local production.
The set changed frequently - as it rotated - changing between Mermaid’s Cove, the deck of the Jolly Roger, the Lost Boys hideout and the Indian camp. As a bit of panto-going veteran myself I would say it was easily the most impressive set the Forum has used for pantomime.
The story moved quickly and was interspersed with the usual mix of musical and dance numbers. Taking a very Derry approach to pantomime, a scene I think that will long stay in my mind are the Mermaids - who sing (and I use that term loosely) a Disney classic while the younger chorus members danced their hearts out front of stage.
Veterans of the Derry panto William Caulfield and Gerard McCabe were of course back in fine form as a perfectly timed comedy duo. But this year Caulfield has left behind the over the top frocks which came with his traditional role as a panto dame in favour of playing the villainous Hook.
I’ll be honest while Caulfield played the role perfectly (so perfectly that initially my four year was actually quaking with fear when he walked through the auditorium) - there was a sense that something was missing with the lack of panto dame - although it is understandable that no such role existed in the show.
The change of role for Caulfied did however give Gerard McCabe the chance to steal the show as Smee (“It’s You!”). His funny, warm and at times really gross portrayal of the pirate who is Hook’s right hand man (geddit?) was panto gold.
And when he high fived the aforementioned, no longer terrified, four year old at the end of the show and asked her if she had fun he made her night!
There were strong vocal performances from both Fiona Carty as Wendy and Ellen Hasson who double jobbed in the role of Tiger Lily and Mrs Darling. And Mikey Heath was charming and accomplished in the lead role.
If I were to make any complaints it would be that some of the dancers seemed to lack the ability to look as though they were enjoying themselves. A smile would have added so much to the impressive dance moves.
But that aside, this was a magical, fire breathing, high flying family friendly extravaganza for children of all ages. Even my cynical 42 year old husband was impressed by it all.