Theatre review: Peter Pan at the Alban Arena is a triumph for all ages

Peter Pan at the Alban Arena, Christmas 2015

Peter Pan at the Alban Arena, Christmas 2015 - Credit: Archant

Experiencing the magic of pantomime through the awestruck eyes of a child brings a new perspective on the production to even a jaded journalist like myself.

Peter Pan at the Alban Arena was her first panto for my three-year-old daughter Anwen, already a fan of fairies and pirates, and she remained transfixed by the exciting events in Neverland for the duration of the performance.

Most adults are so blasé as to just what is possible to achieve on stage that we are in danger of forgetting how incredible seeing Peter and Wendy actually flying through the air can be for a small child, still lost in a world of innocence and imagination, and she was still happily chatting away about their aerial acrobatics throughout our journey home.

Peter Pan is the sixth Arena panto from the talented team of Paul Hendy and Emily Wood, and there’s a warm sense of familiarity in the production, especially with old favourite and local legend Bob Golding back for his fifth year in the cast.

Taking on the role of dame Mrs Smee this time round, and donning a diversity of dresses for the part (top marks to manager Dorcas Wood for keeping track of them all), Bob has stepped away from the Eric Morecambe tribute he has adopted in previous pantos to play a more avuncular take on his own amiable personality. He is obviously comfortable performing on both the Arena stage and before a home crowd, throwing in plenty of asides referencing the likes of Luton Town, Harpenden and Watford, and also makes a first-rate double act alongside Ian Kirkby as Eric the overacting pirate.

David Ribi plays a plucky Peter Pan, all heroic stances and heartfelt courage, but if there are two stars of the show the audience is paying to see above the rest, then it’s EastEnders rogue Jake Wood and CBeebies darling Katrina Bryan as Captain Hook and Tinkerbell.

There’s a lot less womanising and charming from Jake’s pirate king compared to his usual role as Max Branning, but he plays up admirably to the part of pantomime villain, albeit with a surprise nod to his time on Strictly Come Dancing that has to be seen to be believed (and all it was missing was a “7!” from the band on the balcony).

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Katrina is beautiful and bubbly as the mischievous fairy Tinkerbell, also very different from her more familiar role as neuroscientist Nina in the hit CBeebies science show Nina and the Neurons, and she rubs up nicely against the prim and proper Wendy Darling (Abigail Poulton).

The stakes have definitely been raised since Evolution Pantomimes took the helm of the Arena show, with a level of quality in the production which is hard to beat, and this year’s show is no exception.

From the diverse choice of songs - versions of The Osmonds’ Crazy Horses, S Club 7’s Reach and Bowie’s Nature Boy are accompanied by riffs from Nirvana, Metallica and Motorhead - to the elaborate use of computer graphics portraying Peter and the Darlings’ flight from Edwardian London to Neverland, and a script which works on a variety of age levels, it consistently delivers in every capacity.

As for my daughter, caught up in a world of flying boys, dastardly pirates and brave Red Indians, the experience had an added element of realism which older children and adults have long since lost, and it’s hard not to wish she takes after Peter Pan and never grows up. But just as childhood comes to an end, so too did the evening’s performance, wrapping up another outstanding hit from the Arena.