The British Pantomime it seems is not just for Christmas, it is possible to have this truly British theatrical institution played all year round, or at least at seminal moments in the yearly calendar at least. In recent years the theatre night in which the whole family can enjoy has taken on greater resonance, especially over the Easter or spring bank holidays.
The tale of Peter Pan is one that sits across all ages, as all good productions should do. Deep down it is a cautionary tale of what it is like to forget what it is to be a child, the wide ranging emotions that come naturally, the ability to play which seems to be lost somewhere along the line of when they ask you to grow up. Peter Pan is the pantomime that takes you back to that ideal, of understanding what it means to not be afraid of authority, of magic and of being lost in a world that at times truly makes you feel invisible.
Peter Pan- A Swashbuckling Easter Pantomime comes to the Knowsley Culture and Leisure Park this week. After a successful run in Blackpool over the Easter period, the tale of lost boys, the evil that resides in the heart of a Captain afraid of crocodiles and in the beauty of a small fairy makes its way to Merseyside in what will be a very enjoyable story for all the family.
Ahead of the performance, I was able to catch up with the Director of the play, Anthony Proctor. A man known to many around the city of Liverpool for his infectious love of theatre, Mr. Proctor has that unswerving loyalty to the stage, in whatever capacity, that is to be admired and his latest production is one that exemplifies the actor/director’s will to bring a show worthy of being shown to all.
I have to ask you, pantomimes are usually associated with Christmas, the snow on the round, the Yule log burning merrily in the fire, what makes an Easter pantomime so different, is there a difference?
AP: “I don’t think there is a difference between Easter pantomime and the traditional Christmas pantomime. I think pantomime is the only real traditional form of British theatre which we have, it predates Shakespeare, it is the only form of entertainment that we still go to as a family every year. There’s something for everyone at Panto and many families go every Christmas, so why not repeat that experience at Easter?”
You’re doing Peter Pan – with a rather splendid Tinker Bell! How have the actors been?
AP: “The cast are absolutely fantastic! They’ve really played their characters brilliantly. Christopher Maloney – the X Factor finalist, was an unknown quantity to be honest. I turned up at rehearsals and I didn’t know how he would be – but he came in, growling like a pirate and waving his left hand in the air without his hook and he really embodied the character. It was wonderful to see Hook grow within him during the five days we had to rehearse the piece. It was a massive job, there are loads of dance numbers in the show, there’s three fight scenes, people fly, there’s mermaids and to see the whole cast work so hard was so special – Kurtis Stacey who plays Peter Pan is a wonderful child-like impish Peter Pan and to watch his playfulness grow during rehearsals was wonderful. It made my job so easy. Steven Hall was also so great to work with, he’s playing a character which isn’t in the original story, but we gave him a brilliant side plot as a newly recruited Pirate. Chris Martin’s comedy routines had me in stitches throughout rehearsals and my three beautiful songstresses Beth McMillan (Tinker Belle), Lauren Boote (Tiger Lily ) and Hattie Rainford (Wendy) gave me goosebumps every time we rehearsed a musical number.
I also have to do a special mention for our team of Ensemble dancers who have come to us straight from College and our amazing team of children who play the Lost Boys, Michael and John as well as performing alongside the adult cast in 3 dance numbers. The children really make this production extra special!”
Obviously being the overall, shall we say, arc to the piece, how difficult do you find that within yourself, is it an easy thing? It’s very different from when you were directing an older cast in Aladdin?
AP: “I think that first of all directing a professional cast is much easier, you don’t have to teach the lessons that you do for a novice cast who haven’t done much before. This cast were great because they took on my advice from day one of rehearsals. I said ‘you have to tell the story’. In everything we do in panto, it’s about telling families a story and sometimes people forget that, they get wrapped up in the comedy, they get wrapped up in the West End numbers and I reminded the cast every day that we’re telling a story to families and I want a six year old boy or girl to believe what’s going on onstage, that’s the most important thing.
The show’s currently playing in Blackpool and I went to see it’s opening night and there’s a moment in the show, I don’t won’t give too much away, but there is a point where Peter Pan has to come out into the audience and sit on the side of the stage, outside of the proscenium arch, on the audience’s side. During this moment a little boy ran up to him and gave Peter his flashing sword and said: “Peter, kill the pirates!”. That moment was exactly why I agreed to do the show. Putting on a production in five days is stressful, actors sometimes find it hard to fill in the blanks and I have to give them a little bit of a push to get them where I need them to be but that moment was worth all the stress and that pushing. It kind of validated the whole process for me really and it just showed how well all the actors had taken on what I wanted them to do.”
Can you remember your first pantomime you went to?
AP: “Well, the first panto wasn’t a traditional panto, I went to see my sister Emma Bispham, who’s now a professional actress as well, play Maid Marion in a panto version of Robin Hood and it wasn’t at Christmas, it was probably September time, I can’t remember and it at The Epstein – The Neptune as it was then called, I think that was the moment that I knew I was going to be an actor or a director. Watching that, I knew I wanted to be in the performing arts. The reason why is that at the end of the production and I remember as if it was yesterday, the curtain came down and one of the actors in the show came under the curtain and looked me in the eye and waved at me, he waved directly at me and it that was the moment. He pulled me the actor’s side of the proscenium arch and I’ve never forgotten it.”
Going from that point then to where you are now can you see this as a full circle?
AP: “I think so, family entertainment has always been part of my life and pantomime has been a huge part of what I’ve done as a performer and all my life really. When I was doing my A Levels many, many moons ago, I worked on a pantomime, it was a brand new story it was called When The Cows Come Home, we put the pantomime cow centre stage and Bessie as we called her had to save Pantoland and that was the story and it was performed at my high school and I got a good mark, I was 17 or 18 at the time. I did my Performing Arts A Level in a year, I decided that veterinary science wasn’t for me and performing arts was my path. There was a link though, the cow saved me!
Throughout my career, I turned professional, either teaching panto or being part of pantomimes or panto-like shows. They have been a massive iron rod through what I’ve done. When I first started professionally when I was 19, I did mini-pantos at Farmer Ted’s Farm Park where I would do Halloween panto, based on the Scooby Doo format – there’s a monster and we have to find out who it was. Then we’d do Christmas panto for him, shorter, 45 minute pantos and we’d pack the theatre out, we’d have 500 people in the audience at every show. I directed youth pantomimes for the likes of Stagecoach Theatre Arts, one year we made a Beatles pantomime which was fab. In the story there was something bad happening in Liverpool and The Beatles had to save the city using their songs. I also directed the senior citizen panto version of Aladdin at the Empire Theatre for ATG. I was even in the Empire’s 2008 Cinderella staring Cilla Black. I said 2 lines in the show as an audience plant. I got to shout ‘Oh no it isn’t’ at Cilla 39 times!
So pantomime and shows for families have always been an important part of my life and I think bringing Peter Pan to Knowsley, it is a circle.”
Are you a big fan of Peter Pan as a story then?
AP: “Absolutely! You know, I love all of those children’s stories from Alice In Wonderland to Peter Pan to the Brothers Grimm, all those stories that take you away to another land but not only that, they also teach you about your own humanity and the world around you.”
Do you see Peter Pan in a slightly different way? It’s more moral than a lot of the others. The appeal is that it’s like the child inside the adult, the feeling that you can’t escape of what is set out for you.
AP: “You’re absolutely right! We forget to play as adults and I think that what’s wonderful about my career is that I get to play for a living. I never forget that. A lot of my training was in Shakespeare but also within clowning with a guy called Mark Winstanley, it was night and day learning from him. How we learn in acting is by playing games and before my training with Mark, I wanted to win the game, Mark taught me to play the game and forget about the outcome. I had to be in the game. The scenes we perform are mini-games and we’re told by the playwright what the outcome is, so as an actor, if you always play the game to win and that’s not what the outcome should be, you’re not going to play the scene correctly. That was a massive sort of light bulb moment for me. So when I direct a show, I look at a scene and tell the actors how to play the game. That’s my job as a director and when we get it right, the scene is magical and wonderful, when we get it wrong, it’s o.k. it’s just a game so tomorrow we’ll do it again. We’ll play the game again. Peter Pan reminds us that it’s ok to play, even more than that, to play is essential.”
Captain Hook, Peter Pan or Tinkerbell, if you could play any part which one would it be?
AP: “Hook! I’m absolutely a Hook! If only I was a few inches taller!”
Peter Pan- A Swashbuckling Easter Pantomime is being performed at the Knowsley Culture and Leisure Park on the 17th and 18th April. There is a matinee performance starting at 2pm on the 18th. Tickets are priced at £10 for adults with concessions available for £8. To book tickets call 0151 443 2575, go online at www.ticketquarter.co.uk/online/peter-pan-pantomime.
Ian D. Hall