PETER PAN Panto Launch
The Molineux Centre, Wolverhampton, Thursday 3rd September, 2015
The Grand Theatre’s pantomime this year will be Peter Pan, starring the indefatigable Chuckle Brothers as a pair of hapless pirates, Paul and Barry Smee, and EastEnders’ John Altman as Captain Hook. First though, I meet newcomer Ross Carpenter who will be flying high in the title role.
Only 22 years old – but he doesn’t look it – Carpenter is a personable young man whose boyish good looks make him great casting. “All my family and friends call me Peter Pan,” he says, “because I’m like that anyway.” He says you have to be Peter Pan in real life to make Peter Pan believable; the role is “a heightened version of myself.”
No stranger to the wires, Carpenter first played the role last year in Northampton and admits the flying is daunting at first but it’s the best part! Now, I may be a boy who never grew up, but I’ll leave all the aerobatics to him.
Next up, I encounter TV’s Nasty Nick Cotton, John Altman who is of course much nicer in real life. (That’s what acting means, William). I ask how he’s going to approach Hook and he tells me he won’t necessarily be Cockney – although there will of course be Nick Cotton references. Pirates of the Caribbean-y, he says, a roguish pirate. He is keen to point out that he doesn’t regard himself as typecast in the role of villain, and when you look at his CV you see there is more to him than Soap’s nastiest baddie. I ask about musical theatre roles and he reveals he’d like to try something like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
Walking around with Nick Cotton’s face is all right, he says. “I was worried when I first took it on but it’s OK.” He avoids pubs at closing time when people might get a bit lairy, so it does affect decisions about where to go and when, but on the whole, it’s good.
I ask about Shakespeare. “Yes, good question.” He’d love to do it but never has. He feels ready for it now. “When you study Shakespeare as a child you don’t appreciate it, you don’t understand most of it: the love story say of Romeo and Juliet, and the rival factions. You don’t realise that’s something that goes on all the time, all over the world.”
I say I can easily see him as a Richard III.
“Thank you. Or Shylock maybe. That’s something I’d like to try.”
There is something about Altman, beyond his warmth – a hint of wickedness, perhaps. “I’ll be striking fear into the hearts of the Wolverhampton peasants,” he says. And you believe it.
Paul and Barry Chuckle greet me with a twinkle in their eye. “It’s great to be back,” says Paul (not the small one, the other one), “We love Wolverhampton.”
Astonishingly, it will be their 49th year in panto. Add to that one they made for the telly, and Peter Pan will be their 50th. I ask what’s the secret of their longevity. “We won’t go!” laughs Paul.
Brother Barry adds, “The comedy we do is for everybody, across the board. That’s probably why we’re still going.”
Paul: We never do stuff for kids. Or for mums and dads. What we do is for everybody. If it’s not funny, we won’t do it.
As influences they cite their own dad, who was a gang show performer, Laurel and Hardy, Martin and Lewis, and Abbott and Costello.
I ask them to describe pantomime to someone who has never heard of it, a Martian perhaps, or an American.
“Fun,” says Paul. “In our pantos that’s all we aim at: comedy. It’s a fairy story –
“With laughs and a few songs thrown in,” Barry finishes the thought for him. Audiences can expect a lot of laughs, pies in faces, and nothing but fun.
Producer Michael Harrison says he sees pantomime as a distinct art form, like opera and ballet. “There are some people who can do it, and some that can’t.” Judging by the line-up I’ve met so far, I’d say this particular panto is in very safe hands.
Peter Pan runs at the Grand Theatre from December 12th until January 24th. I can’t wait!