Seeing Jonny Wilkes perform in The Regent Theatre’s annual pantomime is as much a Christmas tradition as a mince pie and mulled wine for many across Staffordshire. And this year’s production of The Pantomime Adventures of Peter Pan sees the Baddeley Green born and bred performer make a flying return for his 18th season – because it wouldn’t be a proper Stokie Christmas without him, really, would it?
Peter Pan is a real Disney classic, and one that can be rewatched and rewatched time and time again, but this Pantomime has been set in the aftermath of the Peter Pan story where the fairy dust has all dried up. In Neverland the magic has disappeared and the gang all have to make Peter Pan – played by Rory Sutherland – believe again. Of course, Jonny, playing Smee, is in the centre of it all causing madness and mayhem.
The magic begins from the moment the show opens, revealing Amanda Coutts as Tinker Bell on a pair of roller skates. She wheels across the stage before ‘flying’ into the air, immediately setting the tone for a totally enchanting evening.
Soon after, we’re treated to our first Ayup, me ducks, as Jonny bursts onto the stage on a hoverboard to The Final Countdown before he joins the ensemble for a choreographed routine to Lizzo’s ‘It’s About Damn Time’, renamed ‘It’s Panto Time’ – the perfect opportunity for some audience participation.
Jonny visibly beams with pride as he welcomes a Stoke audience back to the first ‘proper’ panto without covid restrictions. It’s a cheeky smirk that says ‘you’ve no idea what we have in store’. The leading lad brings his usual warmth and wit to his chaotic character, something is loyal and growing following is a testament to.
Generating the boos this year, and finally making his way onto the promotional poster, is Kai Owen, who you’ll recognise from wearing a number of wigs on the Regent’s stage in previous years, including Dandini in Cinderella, King Cyril in Sleeping Beauty, the evil Sheriff of Stokingham in Robin Hood and Jafar in the 2017 production of Aladdin. This year, the Welsh actor is stepping into the boots of Captain Hook with a wig that makes him look ‘a bit like Brian May’ – not that it always stays on, that is.
The comedy duo wove all of the old favourites into the script, with all the ‘oh yes I am’, ‘Oh no your not’s and the ‘he’s behind yous’ that pantos are best loved for, as well as the Stokie additions to the script, very loosely followed by Jonny and Kai, from digs at Abbey Hulton and Cheadle, the Port Vale/Stoke City rivalry, a mention for The Sentinel, as well as Hanley’s The Unicorn pub and Jonny’s favourite local eatery, Roberto’s.
Some fairly racy adult humour leaves the audience roaring with laughter, a particular favourite being when Hook asks Smee ‘what did I say to you in the dressing room?’ as they attempt a rendition of The Wonder of You, demonstrating both Kai’s fantastic voice and the pair’s impeccable comic timing.
Without too many spoilers, there are some hilariously entertaining skits, from Jonny’s Magic Mike number and the Magical Musculature to the annual 12 days of Christmas carol, complete with five toilet rolls. And let it be known that no seat is safe – bring a raincoat.
The end of act one sees ‘something this theatre has never seen before’, with some unbelievable special effects – they’ve really pulled out all the stops.
Completing the cast is Hannah Everest, who plays a mature and headstrong Wendy Darling alongside charmingly childish Peter, and carries out beautiful harmonies alongside Amanda’s Tinker Bell.
The ensemble dancers deserve a special mention, leaping across the stage in expertly executed routines. All of the dancers are students and graduates of the Wilkes Academy of Performing Arts, run by Jonny and his wife Nikki. I think it’s wonderful for Jonny to introduce the next generation of actors, singers, and dancers into the performance industry with such an incredible opportunity. Their choreography was slick and synergised, really bringing to life the story of Peter Pan – made all the more impressive that each panto only rehearses for around two weeks in total before they are in the theatre ready to do a run through in costume, according to producers Crossroads Pantomimes.
The panto isn’t complete without the usual shout outs to those in the audience, including Beryl, although this year, Jake and I got a mention for our engagement, while my niece Poppy was wished a Happy Birthday, watching the panto having recently turned eight years old. In fact, on stage singing ‘one smart fellow…’, she even gave our stalwart performer a run for his money, leaving the audience chuckling.
The Pantomime Adventures of Peter Pan features all the madcap mayhem Stoke audiences have come to expect from The Regent’s Christmas spectacular, with magical special effects, infectious humour, and a cast with so much chemistry they could set the stage alight – and very nearly do.
It’s, of course, got all of our favourite panto cornerstones, complete with new jokes, routines and audience interaction that makes it arguably the best one yet.
Together Jonny and Kai make a side-splittingly funny double-act, with audiences welcoming Kai as one of their own. An honorary Stokie through service to Potteries arts and culture.
Full of hijinks and humour, The Pantomime Adventures of Peter Pan is a magical night out for the whole family that will leave you feeling warm, fuzzy and festive, with personal touches that are what local pantomime is all about.
You can join Jonny and the team on a swashbuckling trip this Christmas at The Regent Theatre until December 31, with tickets available from £13.
There is a performance for everybody this festive season, including signed, audio described and a relaxed performance, so you’re sure to find the perfect panto show to enjoy. Be part of the panto magic and hook your tickets here.