Off the Hook!
20 Sep 2021
by Katy Rink

It was wonderful to see pantomime dame Brad Fitt back in Shrewsbury this week for the official launch of The Pantomime Adventures of Peter Pan at Theatre Severn. Pictured: Behind the Scenes at the official panto photoshoot 

Off the Hook!

How we have missed our fabulous panto! My Shrewsbury editor Katy Rink caught up with the cast in their new costumes and chatted to producer Paul Hendy about the challenges of the past year.

Panto Dame Brad Fitt had been expecting to celebrate a decade of playing Dame with Beauty and the Beast in Shrewsbury when Covid stopped play. We got a flavour of pantomime instead in July, with Brad’s one-man-one-woman show We’ll Have to Do it Again Then Won’t We.

But it will have been two whole years since we’ve been able to laugh our socks off at the Theatre Severn Christmas panto.

Shropshire’s legendary Dame is looking forward to returning to Shrewsbury this winter as Mrs Smee in The Pantomime Adventures of Peter Pan, with a new script written by producer Paul Hendy of Evolution Pantomimes.

“My tenth panto in Shrewsbury – it’s a bit of a milestone!” says Brad, who appeared as Widow Twankey in Aladdin in 2019. “Of course I’m very excited to be coming back playing Mrs Smee, a comic sidekick to Captain Hook.”

“The great thing about Shrewsbury is that there’s a kind of shorthand to the relationship with the audience here – I come on stage and all I have to say is ‘Hello Shrewsbury’ and everyone knows what they are going to get! People come back year after year. It becomes part of their Christmas.”

“I can’t believe how much I’ve missed the theatre,” says former BBC Radio Shropshire breakfast host Eric Smith who will play 'Eric the Pirate'. Beauty and the Beast was to have been his first job post retirement in December last year and his 18th appearance on stage with the panto at Theatre Severn.

“We were all devastated. Being in the panto is just fabulous. It’s hard work but great fun. We do 10 days of rehearsals from 10am to 8pm and then 12 shows a week, sometimes three in a day! It’s a family – you work so closely together, the atmosphere is incredible. Everyone is so supportive of everyone else.”

Eric has moved house since he retired and now enjoys trips to the theatre and walking his dog, but he can’t wait to get back up on stage: “If you think you’re enjoying it when you come and see it, we’re all enjoying it twice as much as you are,” he said. “The only thing I regret is that I can never see it because I’m in it!”

Producer and scriptwriter Paul Hendy, of Evolution Productions, said the decision to switch to Peter Pan was made due to ‘logistics’: “It’s a new take on the story; a panto version with lots more fun and comedy. Expect some flying too! It’ll be exciting for us technically, achieving that.

“With panto more than with any other genre we have that ability to bring together three or four generations of the same family – many people haven’t been able to do that for two years. It’s a great show with a great cast and there’s something for everyone. Everyone is ready to have some panto back in their lives – it’s good for the soul!”

Victoria McCabe, who has previously starred in Mother Goose and Aladdin in Shrewsbury, will play Elizabeth Darling. Harry Winchester and Phil Stewart will play Peter Pan and Captain Hook, while Katy Dean and Millie Davies make their debuts at the theatre as Mrs Darling and Tinkerbell.

David Jack, Theatre Manager at Theatre Severn, said: “It’s such a refreshing change to be putting on a panto again, albeit a slightly different show… but it will be just as magical, just as special and funny as normal.”

He said the vast majority of ticket holders from last year’s show had retained their tickets (25,000+ seats have already been sold).

David’s team have been forced to reschedule thousands of shows, some more than once, but he said the Culture Recovery Fund has ‘plugged a gap’ for the next financial year.

As far as the audience is concerned, happily, Theatre Severn is back to business as usual, with a great lineup this season. They’ve already had Ben Fogle and Noel Fitzpatrick (Supervet) pay a visit, which David revealed was ‘a bit of a coup’ as Noel doesn’t usually tour.

He added: “The next 18 months will be dominated by shows we should have done before. The good news is that those tickets have sold and we aren’t relying on audience confidence in returning. Obviously, we’re doing all we can to make sure people feel safe and confident.”

Tickets for 'The Pantomime Adventures of Peter Pan' (Wed 1 Dec 2021 - Mon 3 Jan 2022) are available for morning shows (10.15am), matinees (1pm an 2pm, various dates) and evening performances (5pm & 6pm, various dates) priced at £16-£27.50 from Theatre Severn

Stagetext performance, Mon 20 Dec, 2pm (text displayed on a caption unit) and Signed Performance on Mon 20 Dec, 6pm presented with British Sign Language (BSL) to aid hearing impaired audiences. To book your tickets visit the Theatre Severn website or call the box office on (01743) 281281.