Labyrinthine laughs with Peter Pan at the Alban Arena

HE may have been bumped off last Christmas with a well-placed blow from a Queen Victoria bust, but the spirit of EastEnders villain Archie Mitchell was definitely alive and well in the persona of legendary pantomime villain James T Hook.

Archie’s alter ego, actor Larry Lamb, took to the part in the Alban Arena’s production of Peter Pan with relish, infusing the pirate captain with a devilish charm and playing up to the audience’s boos and hisses with obvious glee.

Paul Hendy’s adaptation of JM Barrie’s celebrated tale of the boy who never grew up brought a spectacular fusion of live action and special effects to the Arena’s stage, most obviously with the remarkable scenes of Peter and the Darling children flying over London on their way to Neverland.

Well-known songs from the likes of Queen and Michael Jackson were supported by a selection of original numbers, with first rate choreography from Loveday Chamberlain, who also appeared as Indian princess Tiger Lily.

Lindsay Harding gave a standout performance as Wendy, her powerful voice lending emotion and depth to her solo songs, including a moving version of Nature Boy, most famously heard in the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. She also succeeded in portraying the young girl who becomes caught up in a wonderful adventure, and as such she played off remarkably well against CBeebies star Katy Ashworth’s high-flying Pan.

Katy’s appearance was a definite plus for the hundreds of young fans who follow her activities on TV series I Can Cook, but her performance as Peter also offered a cocksure strut which owed more to today’s teenagers than his Victorian inspiration, and succeeded in winning over the more mature members of the audience as a result.

Larry Lamb seemed born to play Pan’s arch enemy, with a casual air of sophisticated menace never really hiding his homicidal intent, whether he was plotting to poison Peter or preparing to have the Lost Boys walk the plank.

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The script was littered with plenty of EastEnders in-jokes inspired by his turn as Archie, and while there were no references to his other celebrated role as Michael Shipman in Gavin and Stacey, there were some nice contemporary gags thrown into the mix, including a reference to Gillian McKeith’s recent turn on I’m A Celebrity.

Director Ben Roddy’s double act with Mercury 96.6 DJ Tank Montana was one of the surprise highlights of the show, as their turns as the camp Smee and guitar-loving Starkey proved a laugh riot, especially when accompanied by Sarah Whittuck as Mia the mermaid with an Essex girl sensibility. It is tantamount to the strengths of their performances that the trio were able to hold down entire sections of the story without appearances from any of the main stars.

It’s worth highlighting that the production draws on a host of local talent, from producers to performers, and of course the Arena’s first rate team of behind-the-scenes staff ensure everything goes to plan in what is a technically-challenging production.

The success of any pantomime can be measured in its appeal to everyone from parents to toddlers, and Peter Pan admirably ticked all the boxes in this regard, with a swashbuckling musical adventure that transported the audience to a world of pirates, Red Indians and fairies, led of course by the flying boy who refuses to age.

If you’re looking for some good old-fashioned family entertainment for the festive season, then the Alban Arena should be the first choice on your list this Christmas.