REHEARSALS for All New Adventures Of Peter Pan will start on November 7 but already York Theatre Royal’s cast members have met up to launch the third pantomime collaboration with Evolution Productions.
In attendance for a photo-session and chat over sandwiches and brownies were Paul Hawkyard and Robin Simpson, last year’s award-nominated ugly sister double act Manky and Mardy; Faye Campbell, their fellow returnee from Cinderella, and two faces new to the Theatre Royal panto ranks, CBeebies’ Maddie Moate and Jason Battersby, promoted from Lead Shadow in Wendy And Peter at Leeds Playhouse last Christmas to Peter Pan this winter.
Absent that day was Jonny Weldon, a comedy video-making social media sensation with a “little part” in House Of The Dragon, who will play Starkey.
Hawkyard and Simpson had just finished Harrogate Theatre’s HT Rep season of three plays in three weeks, Simpson appearing in all three, Abigail’s Party, Gaslight and Men Of The World; Hawkyard in the first and last.
“Robin and I have worked together before, for Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York, sharing a dressing room from the day we started. We get on well, we have a laugh, and it’ll be great working with my mate again,” says Paul, who is delighted to be playing Captain Hook.
“As soon as I found out they were doing Peter Pan here, I really wanted the part because he’s one of the all-time best baddies.”
Tall, imposing, but naturally comedic too, Paul is playing around with ideas, probably not entirely seriously. “I’m going to switch the hook from arm to arm, to see if anyone notices!” he says.
Rather more definitely, he adds: “There’ll be lots of comedy opportunities together with Robin.”
Maddie chips in: “I think people just enjoy seeing friendships, partnerships, on stage. People like that familiarity in panto.” Faye concurs: “If we’re having fun, the audience will have fun too.”
Robin may have worked flat out on HT Rep, rehearsing the next play from Wednesday to Saturday in the daytime before performing in the evening, but he has had no time to rest. Already he is hitting his straps in rehearsals at the Central Methodist Church for David Reed’s play Guy Fawkes ahead of its York Theatre Royal premiere from October 28 to November 12.
Come panto-time, he will be playing Mrs Smee, effectively the dame’s role in these All New Adventures, written by Evolution’s Paul Hendy and directed by Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster.
Not Mrs Darling, Robin? “As far as I’m aware, I’ll be Mrs Smee, though there’s still time to change that! The character is normally Smee, the pirate, Hook’s mate. Now it will be Mrs Smee and a sidekick, Starkey.”
Like Simpson, Faye Campbell will be completing a hattrick of Theatre Royal-Evolution pantos after her fairy in 2020’s Travelling Panto and title role in 2021’s Cinderella. “I’m playing Emily, who’s Wendy’s daughter, so it’s moved on in time from J M Barrie’s original story. Now it’s Emily who goes on the adventures, after hearing of the story of Peter Pan from her mother,” she says.
Maddie Moate, who follows Andy Day from the CBeebies team into the Theatre Royal panto, says: “For those who love the traditional story of Peter Pan, you will still meet Peter Pan, Hook, the Lost Boys, the crocodile. They won’t be disappointed. It will all be instantly recognisable,” she says.
“I’ll be playing Tinkerbell, after I played Fairy Phoenix, the good fairy, at Leicester De Montford Hall last year, who was a bit of a nerd, a fairy in training!”
Jason Battersby took a deep dive into JM Barrie’s world when researching his role as Lead Shadow at Leeds Playhouse. “I love the book and the way you can tell it’s written for children but from an intellectual viewpoint,” he says, as he turns his attention to leading the Theatre Royal show as Peter Pan. “It’s almost like it was written by an incredibly clever child.
“As I know from last year, there are so many different ways to tell the story, and it’s one of those stories where you can really bring your own thing to it. All New Adventures Of Peter Pan is completely different from Wendy And Peter. Different theatrical conventions. Different songs. Different characters.
“There’s a line in the book that says Peter Pan takes children who die to Neverland, so there are darker elements to him, but he’s never a character who’s set in stone. There are suggestions in the book, so you can play him dark, or you can play him for his childish, playful qualities, but, yes, he has some demons.
“Sometimes, some of those darker elements are not the ones you want to put in, and certainly I don’t want to play sad Peter Pan. That would be the wrong choice.”
All New Adventures Of Peter Pan will run at York Theatre Royal from December 2 to January 2 2023. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.