You never really forget your first stage show – especially if it’s a pantomime. There is something memorable about cheering the hero, booing the villain and giggling at the funny characters that adds up to a special day at the theatre.
This is exactly what the producers of the traditional panto, Peter Pan, are hoping as they launch their first-ever three-city pantomime tour in time for the 2017 June/July school holidays.
Showing in the Gold Coast, Sydney and Melbourne, it’s the perfect excuse to enjoy a little G-rated family fun. Take the nieces and nephews, the grandchildren, or even your own kids and be prepared for some old-fashioned, uplifting song-and-dance magic.
Star of the show and theatre veteran, Todd McKenney, says that pantomime is a whole new experience for him, but one he is thoroughly enjoying. McKenney plays Pan’s arch nemesis Captain Hook with a bit of fierceness, and a touch of buffoonery.
McKenney plays villainous Captain Hook in the pantomine classic
“I think the villains almost have the most fun,” he says with a laugh.
He’s hoping that the younger audience members will be a little scared, but not terrified. “It's good clean fun, it can be the whole family, and introduce the kids to theatre and hopefully give them a life-long passion for seeing more.”
For the last couple of weeks, McKenney has been learning the show, which is full of big production numbers and “quite an involved script”.
It’s hard work, he adds, especially because he has to do it all in a huge heavy wig, ornate brocade jacket – and, oh yes, a big metal hook. He estimates that he’s carrying an extra 20 kilos in costume for the role.
“It's really just been head down and go for it,” he says, “but they told me that once you hit the stage, the kids’ reactions are just unlike anything else you have experienced. So I'm really looking forward to that.”
McKenney is also expecting a few boos to come his way during the show – if he does it right.
“He's one of the finest villains around, but the script just really gives him lots of colour,” he says. “It's funny because he's mean and stuff, but his feelings get hurt really easily, and that’s kind of the fun part of it.
“You see that he's a mean man, he wants to kill everybody, and then is suddenly in tears when he finds no one loves him. So it's quite involved, and you couldn't take him seriously, even though it's a pantomime. It has to have a bit of realism in it, otherwise it's just a cartoon. He's got to have layers.”
“I have a song called 'Evil Serenade', which is just me on stage, just really singing to the audience about how I became so mean and why I'm so vain, and it all turns out that it was because his father never treated him very well.
“His father was a drunk who got banished to sea and took him as a little boy to sea, and locked him in chains in the hull of the ship, and treated him as a slave. So that's why he's now just trying to be mean to please his dad. So, you know, he's got a bit of depth.”
Producer Bonnie Lythgoe has been bringing classic pantomime to Australia for the last five years, but 2017 promises to be her biggest year yet.
This is the first time ever that Lythgoe has presented her pantos outside of Sydney, with the show at The Arts Centre Gold Coast from June 23 to July 1. They will then fly into Sydney’s State Theatre from July 7 to 16 before landing in Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre from July 21 to 30.