Panto at Christmas is a great British tradition, like sprouts with the turkey or watching the Queen’s speech. And part of this tradition dictates that there must be a villain for the audience to boo.
Theatregoers in Glasgow are blessed with a host of pantos to choose from every festive season. One of the most popular has to be the annual offering at the King’s Theatre, which is currently celebrating 50 years of audience members shouting “he’s behind you” with a production of Peter Pan.
But this “pantoversary” was almost in jeopardy when bad guy Captain Hook turned in his cutlass less than 24 hours before curtain up on the month-long run.
King’s panto regular Gavin Mitchell was originally cast as the dastardly pirate but had to pull out of the show owing to illness. However, a replacement was found in the shape of Luther actor Warren Brown and it seemed that the Jolly Roger was sailing on calm seas for the remainder of the rehearsal period. At least, that is, until Hook number two exited Neverland stage left, citing personal reasons for his untimely departure. Given that the baddie is such a pivotal part of any panto, the remaining cast and crew must have been thrown into total chaos as this drama unfolded.
Quite how they managed to persuade him, no one knows, but West End star Alex Bourne arrived in Glasgow in the nick of time and made his debut as Hook on opening day with script still in hand.
We went to see Peter Pan just a few days later, completely unaware that Captain Hook was actually the stand-in for the stand-in. And that’s because Bourne was absolutely brilliant in the role, word-perfect and up to speed with all of the local in-jokes. He should come back next year. Oh, yes he should!
In fact, the panto as a whole was a brilliant night out, with excitement levels in the auditorium ramped to maximum even before the actors appeared on stage. Grown-ups and kiddies alike had a great deal of fun singing along and shouting out the stock phrases at appropriate points in the plot.
Other than Hook, my favourite characters were daft pirates Smee (Greg McHugh, AKA Gary Tank Commander, making his panto debut) and Starkey (Des Clarke, who we last saw whipping rugby sevens fans into a frenzy during the Commonwealth Games). I also thoroughly enjoyed the antics of the ticking crocodile, naughty fairy Tinkerbell and Weegie girls/mermaids Margaret and Senga.
With aerial acrobatics, a gaggle of Lost Boys, banging pop tunes courtesy of a live band and corny gags laced with innuendo, you would have to be extremely bah humbug not to leave the theatre in a great mood after seeing this festive extravaganza. And all thanks an unlikely hero in pirate’s garb.
Captain Hook may still be a baddie but 2014 will definitely go down in panto history as the year he saved Peter Pan.