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Caught by Hook, lines and singers

Peter Pan starring Darren Day is the Northampton Royal & Derngate main pantomime and runs until Sunday December 30.

The atmosphere in the Derngate foyer before the Christmas panto is like no other show.

It’s busier, noisier and buzzier. Yes there is probably a greater number of children watching than the average production. They are all off their heads on Haribos and waving flashing pirate swords purchased from the merchandising stall but there is also a sense of anticipation among the adults.

Peter Pan_Darren Day and the Grumbleweeds_photo by Graeme Braidwood_6477

We are all expecting some unashamed showbiz magic and a connection with the audience that reaches back into English theatre’s most ancient bawdy traditions.

A panto is like a fry-up: the ingredients must always the same but it must also always be surprisingly good and Peter Pan certainly brings home the bacon.

Peter Pan_Darren Day_photo by Graeme Braidwood_6434

Darren Day is the star turn and is good value. He’s got the acting smarts to deliver an East End gangster pirate with convincing menace but can also belt out a decent tune.

When he finally receives his just desserts he protests: “I used to be a West End star…” and although it gets a laugh there is no sense Day’s powers as a performer are waning. He’s just matured to the point where he makes a good baddie.

Peter Pan_The Grumbleweeds_photo by Graeme Braidwood_2801

Hook’s henchmen, Smee and Starkey, are played by veteran comedy duo The Grumbleweeds. They are the main source of mayhem with the audience and were always going to steal the show with their assured comic instincts.

A rummage through the programme notes reveals that Robin Colvill, who imbues Smee with finely judged gross-out buffoonery, used to be the straight man in the act until founder member Graham Walker died of cancer in 2013.

James Brandon came on board and became Eric Wise to Colvill’s Eric Morecambe and it is a testament to the duo that they have managed to change everything and lose nothing.

The scene where they reduce a song to a chaotic shambles of smoke, flashing lights and water sprinklers is pure Eric and Ern style pandemonium.

Peter Pan_Rachael Wooding_photo by Graeme Braidwood 6328

Rachael Wooding adds to the vocal power of the cast as Mimi The Magical Mermaid – a kind of fairy godmother that Hook intends to eat. She has a host of performing credits to her name but being a semi-finalist of Britain’s Got Talent in 2016 is the headline grabber.

Together with Day and the talented supporting cast, she helps ensure that Peter Pan ticks the musical box in terms of delivering all round entertainment.

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Street dance champions Flawless get several chances to show off their exquisite moves, much to the vocal satisfaction of one or two mums sitting near me, who were clearly big fans of finely crafted choreography and athleticism.

Peter Pan_Joe Sleight and Millie Davies_photo by Graeme Braidwood_2693

Joe Sleight is Peter Pan and paradoxically the character comes across as a less convincing boyish rascal when played by a man. Pan is something of a dimwit goody goody in this production and does not even look safe from the clutches of Millie Davies’ angelic Wendy let alone his arch enemy Hook.

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Abigail Dever fizzes as a rollerskating Tinkerbell.

Sometimes you love a showbizzy panto through gritted teeth but this one served up plenty of genuine laughs and good-hearted fun. This is a winner for kids from age six to 106.

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