jimmy osmond

Jimmy Osmond leads his buccaneers in a merry song and dance

Peter Pan

Birmingham Hippodrome


Simply superb, five star, rock solid, laugh-a-minute, entertainment. That’s all you really need to know, but, just to prove I was there, I’d better carry on.

It’s a sort of panto, mixed with a variety show, mixed with a circus . . . oh, and there is a bit of Peter Pan thrown in as well – but not a lot, as Paul Daniels would have had it.

J M Barrie’s classic children’s tale provides more of an excuse for a party than a plot, and what a party, packed with laughs and some brilliant special effects in what is becoming the Matt Slack Christmas show.

This is his sixth panto on the trot and he has become an essential part of a Hippodrome Christmas – as traditional as a tree and mince pies. He is blessed with that rarest of commodities afforded to very few comedians, one enjoyed by the likes of Tommy Cooper, in particular, and Eric Morcambe; the ability to make people laugh merely by walking on stage.

He has a style, a patter, an immediate rapport with the audience, an endless store of stupidity and one liners, with even better asides to rescue bad jokes, and it works like a charm. The audience loves him.

His comedy ranges from the plain daft, to slapstick, to the ancient – it’s years since I heard the where are my buccaneers line – to the inventive and clever, such as his word play on flags of the world, and his working in of Midland towns and areas of Brum, thrown in like a native.

Meera Syal and Matt Slack

Meera Syal as The Magical Mermaid and Matt Slack as Smee

In Peter Pan he is Smee, who is a sort of nanny to the Darling children, a role perhaps Mr Barrie forgot to mention, while next year he is . . . well, it’s Snow White and I suspect he won’t be a dwarf but, rest assured, he is in it. Book now to be sure of your seat!

Here he is ably aided by Captain Hook, played by Donny Osmond, at least Smee said it was Donny, the bloke himself kept telling us he was Jimmy . . . whatever. Anyhow Jimmy was the baddy, and a fun baddy at that, one who you could never really boo.

It’s 46 years since Little Jimmy had his huge hit with Long Haired Lover from Liverpool and the voice might have matured, but it is still there and despite the hook and plot, Hook comes over as a nice, personable villain – even going to his doom in an impressive giant crocodile snapping up from the orchestra pit with good grace. A real gentleman of a baddy.

Jimmy is an old hand in panto these days but Meera Syal is making her panto debut, and a fair old fist, or perhaps that should be fin, she makes of it as The Magical Mermaid – just don’t let her start telling you about the alarm clock or you will still be there when Snow White starts.

Our hero is Jaymi Hensley from X-Factor fourth placed boy band Union J. He has a terrific voice and an engaging personality as Peter Pan, and along with Hook, Mermaid and Smee, helps provide a comic highlight with a variation on the old panto favourite of If I were Not Upon The Stage.

The song, with actions, means lots of near misses, lots of nowhere near missing full-on hits with frying pans and boxing gloves, a soaking for the audience and a lot of laughs.

Meanwhile, back at the Peter Pan bit, we have Kellie Gnauck as a very attractive Tinker Bell and Cassie Compton weighs in as Wendy Darling the little girl who follows Peter to Neverland. Cassie looks like a young girl and sings like an angel.

Imogen Brooke brings in the native Neverlanders as Tiger Lily, who with her Indians helps rescue Wendy and her two brothers, after they are captured by Hook. There is brother John, a role shared during the run by Callum Finlow and Mali Harris-Blackwood and Michael. Played by Jack Benton and Nicholas Roche.

An innovation for the Hippodrome this year is the inclusion of circus acts, quite fitting in a year celebrating the 250th anniversary of the modern circus – invented by Philip Astley from just up the road in Newcastle-under-Lyme, incidentally.

The first act was the seven-man Timbuktu Tumblers, who despite the name, come not from Mali but Kenya. The troupe have been seen in the Midlands a number of times with the spectacular Cirque Berserk and are tremendous acrobats who introduce skipping ropes, hoops and limbo dancing under a flaming bar to panto.


Cassie Compton as Wendy and Jaymi Hensley as Peter Pan

Second up was Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist Sascha Williams, an Australian Rola Rola expert . . . don’t ask, it will take longer to explain than Meera Syal can waffle on about alarm clock.

Just accept that this guy has performed with some of the best circuses around and balances on a plank rocking on a steel cylinder, then another cylinder and another plank or platform or ladders all rocking about on this six inch or so cylinder, all wobbling away on a platform not much bigger than a tea tray and about seven foot above the ground. Oh, and he juggles and climbs through hoops while he is doing it. You have to see it to believe it. Don’t try it at home unless you really do like hospital food.

As always with Qdos the production values are high and there are no signs of cheeseparing. Costumes are bright and colourful, dancing superb (choreography Alan Harding) and the sets from Ian Westbrook and 3D Creations are spectacular with a clever use of a stage-filling scrim which enhances a flying sequence as Peter and Wendy head off for Neverland and give us a CGI journey through space to the mythical island (projection design Duncan McLean).

Then there is the clever special effects of Smee on a scooter, not only flying out over the audience but doing a barrel roll – look out below – Hook sailing his ship The Jolly Roger above the front rows, or, the even more dramatic giant crocodile, snapping out over the stalls, a truly fearsome beast from The Twins FX.

Add Le Maitre chucking in enough fireworks to keep a bonfire party going – the shooting stars for Tinker Bell being particularly effective – spectacular lighting from Ben Cracknell, and a great sound from the six-man orchestra under musical director Robert Willis, and you have a show packed with interest from beginning to end.

If you are looking for the classic story of Peter Pan . . . well perhaps think again. This is panto with pirates, but, if you want a good laugh to raise the festive spirits, look no further. Pan will be flying high to 27-01-19

Roger Clarke


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