There was a moment as I sat with Darren Day at the Riverside Hub for Royal & Derngate’s panto launch that I realised we were two 50-year-old men in a room full of toadstool tables and chairs, one of us dressed as a pirate while the other is asking him if he can fly.
(He can as it happens “but not how you would think”).
This is the woozy intoxication of the pantomime – the serious business of being silly – and Darren, who plays Hook for the fourth time in this year’s Peter Pan takes it very seriously indeed.
“Doing it this time round when I have my own children gives me a completely different understanding of it. I was saying the other day, I know it’s about the fun but it’s quite a responsibility in some ways. Our pantomime might be the first visit to the theatre that a child is ever going to do and I think it’s very important to make it an experience they are going to remember for the rest of their life,” said Darren.
“I remember my first theatre experience and it shaped going to the theatre for the rest of my life. It is a craft. You have to pitch it just right. As a kid I used to sit and listen to the Grumbleweeds radio show with my dad, and although Rob and I have known each other for about 20 years this is the first time we have worked together onstage. There is a guy who really understands the craft of comedy and pantomimes. I am really looking forward to doing our scenes together.”
Darren and the Grumbleweeds are joined by dance unit Flawless and musical star Abigail Dever for the show, which is produced by the panto maestros Qdos Entertainment.
Darren said: “It’s my fourth time playing Hook, third consecutive year. I first did Hook when I had just come out of Hollyoaks and I played a London gangster called Danny Houston, I based my Hook a bit like him with a really husky voice. When I went back to Hook three years ago I went back to that idea of not playing it like the Disney Hook, the rp Hook which is why I do the bandana and not the big long wig. It’s a bit more rough and ready. It’s great fun. I love playing him.
“It really does sum up this business and how things change. The last time I was in Northampton in pantomime I was Prince Charming. I made a living out of playing those romantic leads. Someone said to me, you have got to try the baddies sometime, it gives you a completely different energy on stage. It was Paul Nicholas said that to me.
“He said have you ever played a baddie, I said no. He found the same thing. He was like me back in the day, was playing the romantic leads and he went to baddie. He was right. It’s just so much more fun. So much more fun. Loads more scope with playing the baddie and Hook especially. Everyone loves Peter Pan, of all the pantomimes it’s a great story. A very interesting character to play.
“It’s a great show. They do fantastic shows QDos. It is spectacular, there really is something for everyone.
“I do fly about but maybe not in the way you might think I would. It’s a funny thing to say but It takes a long time to get used to holding the hook. It does take a while to adjust.”
Executive Producer for Qdos Entertainment, Jonathan Kiley, said: “We’re delighted to have such a wealth of talent starring in Peter Pan this year, from the amazing routines of Flawless to Darren Day’s unique and uniquely cool take on Captain Hook with the madcap comedy of The Grumbleweeds, it’s going to be a panto journey everyone will want to embark on this festive season.”
Jo Gordon, Interim Chief Executive at Royal & Derngate added: “Christmas is a very special time of year, when many children are introduced to theatre for the first time through pantomime. Peter Pan is such a magical story and I am excited that we can stage this spectacular production of such a firm family favourite.”
Peter Pan runs from Friday 7 to Sunday 30 December.
For more information or to book tickets, call Box Office on 01604 624811 or visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk