Grand Theatre Panto Launch – Carl Gray Photographer
Grand Theatre Panto Launch – Carl Gray Photographer

Sandra Mangan dodges the custard pies to chat with the cast of Peter Pan, who are bringing the panto spirit to the Grand Theatre this Christmas.

It’s almost panto time again – oh yes it is! And to prove my point, Peter Pan opens at the Grand Theatre here in Blackpool on Friday, December 6th.

The favourite children’s story by J M Barrie about the boy who never grows up has been transformed into a rip roaring, laugh a minute show by Martin Dodd for UK Productions. And the cast list is impressive too. Tom Lister (Emmerdale‘s Carl King) is Captain Hook, BBC Radio Lancashire and family favourite Steve Royle is Smee, Radio Wave Breakfast host Hayley Kay plays Mrs Darling and BBC The Voice contestant Jordan Lee Davies makes his pantomime debut in the title role. The cast are joined by comedy acrobats The Nitwits and there’s support from very talented local boys and girls from Barbara Jackson’s Schools of Dance.

In Edwardian London Wendy Darling tells bedtime stories to her brothers Michael and John. Her tales are of swashbuckling swordplay with the formidable pirate leader Captain Hook and the heroics of the playful Peter Pan. But the children become the heroes of an even greater story when Peter Pan flies into their nursery one night and leads them over moonlit rooftops to the lush jungles of the mysterious kingdom of Neverland. Can they defeat the dastardly Captain Hook and save the Lost Boys?

The show offers fun for all ages, and I caught up with cast members to find out more…

It’s Tom Lister’s second year in panto. Last Christmas he was in Sunderland, buy he’s thrilled to be appearing in Blackpool over the festive season.

Grand Theatre Panto Launch - Carl Gray Photographer
Grand Theatre Panto Launch – Carl Gray Photographer

“I’m delighted to be in Blackpool for panto this year,” he said.  “I don’t live too far away and used to come here as a child. I’ve happy memories of the Pleasure Beach and the Illuminations and the Sandcastle and can’t wait to introduce my own children to it all.

“This is my second year in panto and both times it’s been Peter Pan. I love playing Captain Hook, and I suppose the role suits me as I’m known for being a baddie in Emmerdale.

“I know some children can find Hook scary, but my children love the cartoon version and I try to play the character more like him. He has to be one of the best roles in panto and I’m really looking forward to playing him again. I had a ball last year and I’m sure Blackpool audiences will be a pleasure.”

Hayley Kay is well known to local radio audiences and a firm favourite with Grand panto-goers. She can’t wait for the fun to start:

“I love being the local person in the show,” she told me. “People like the fact that they can see me in Morrisons or at the traffic lights and stop and have a chat. It’s my second year in panto and I don’t know if that makes me more nervous? Thinking about it though, I think it’s good, because I know what to expect.

“I can’t wait to appear in Peter Pan. I was in Cinderella last year, which is a show for the girls, but Peter Pan has the swashbuckling pirates and Tinkerbell so it is for everyone. I love the story – there’s no other panto like it.

“And being on stage at the Grand is amazing. The Grand Theatre is beautiful, and something Blackpool should be proud of. Last year we had a guided tour of behind the scenes and it really inspired me to learn more about Frank Matcham, who created the Grand. We have such history here – it’s an honour to be onstage.

“I’ll be doing five radio shows and 12 panto performances a week when the time comes, so I’m planning to get all my Christmas shopping done beforehand. It pays to be organised!”

Grand Theatre Panto Launch - Carl Gray Photographer
Grand Theatre Panto Launch – Carl Gray Photographer

Another familiar local face is Steve Royle, who is a panto veteran. And he loves it as much as ever, even after so many years on the pantomime stage.

“This is my 11th year in panto at the Grand and I absolutely love it,” he said. “It’s the best time of the year for me. The first panto I ever performed in, 16 years ago, was Peter Pan in Southport and I played Smee then too. It’s a great role, with lots of slapstick and you are in a double act with Captain Hook. I think Tom and I will be on the same comedy wavelength.

“It’s such a pleasure to appear on the stage at the Grand Theatre. You’re walking in the footsteps of legends like Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel and that can be a bit scary. But then I realie that I’m now part of the Grand’s history too, which is quite moving and a huge responsibility.

“I’ve got a wonderful following here for my pantos and like to give the audiences a show they’ll remember. I’ll write new material which later goes into my stand up shows. Peter Pan is such a magical pantomime and I’m really looking forward to appearing in it.”

Panto debutante Jordan Lee Davies is relishing the thought of taking centre stage.

He told me:  “This is my first pantomime and I can’t wait to start! I had the chance of a few different show, but when I heard I could be Peter Pan there was never any hesitation. It’s a great part, and love the magic of the story  – and I get to fly! I’ve ‘flown’ before, in a show in Italy where I also used circus skills. Not sure I’ll need them this time though.

“Blackpool means a lot to me. I first came as a two year old with my Mum, who took me to all the shows. I think we saw Jimmy Krankie and Freddie and the Dreamers, among others. I was only little and don’t remember it, but she says I was as good as gold – I think that’s where I got my first taste of showbusiness. I came back again as a 17 year old for a dance competition at the Winter Gardens. I’m looking forward to getting to know the place properly.

“I’ll be singing – and I get a great costume – look at these green tights! Peter Pan’s my personal favourite panto and I think it’s fantastic that I’m starring in it.”

Peter Pan runs at the Grand Theatre from December 5th to January 6th, 2014. For performance times and ticket prices, visit The Grand Theatre website. Images courtesy of Carl Gray Photography.

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