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Stars make song and dance of high seas

PUBLISHED: 12:34 19 September 2008 | UPDATED: 21:19 05 July 2010

TO many it must have seemed a strange sight to behold …

Captain Hook on board Lowestoft's traditional sailing smack The Excelsior threatening Mrs Darling, while being egged on by his trusty sidekick Smee.

TO many it must have seemed a strange sight to behold …

Captain Hook on board Lowestoft's traditional sailing smack The Excelsior threatening Mrs Darling, while being egged on by his trusty sidekick Smee.

But as some of fictions best loved characters were brought to life this week by three of television's well known faces, it signalled a moment theatre goers have been waiting 50 years for.

Emmerdale actor Ken Farrington was at the town's Heritage Quay with Hollyoaks actress Sarah Jane Buckley and GMTV children's presenter Jamie Rickers for the official launch of Peter Pan, the first professional pantomime to hit Lowestoft for decades.

And as the trio balanced precariously on the authentic sailing boat, which even boasted a pirate flag blowing in the breeze, it was hard to believe they had only met for the first time hours before as they laughed and joked like old friends.

Yet to see the scripts and with only 10 days to rehearse, beginning in London on December 1, the intense schedule isn't going to faze the seasoned performers.

Aside from the star names, audiences are promised exciting flying sequences, lavish sets, colourful costumes, and 21st century technology, further enhanced by the Nitwits Acrobatic Troupe, live musicians and dancers.

And for Ken, who is playing baddie Hook and is best known for his portrayal as Tom King in ITV'S Emmerdale, it is Lowestoft he has chosen to perform his first pantomime.

“It is the first panto I've done, although about 50 years I did a Pinocchio Christmas show,” he said. “I read the book and thought that looks good, but I think I'm in for a really big shock,” he laughed, as Sarah and Jamie gently informed him that he might encounter some loud boos from the auditorium.

“I don't know what to expect, but I have been promised by Sarah and Jamie they are going to help me along the way. It's a new experience for me and I'm really looking forward to it.

“I keep asking for the script, but I've been told 'when it's ready and not before' I assume there must be a script,” he joked.

Sarah, who played Kathy Barnes in Hollyoaks is taking on the role of Mrs Darling. She said she was approached with the question of whether she would like to go to Lowestoft. “I said, of course I'd like to come. I love pantomime, I enjoy the sense of excitement for children and adults. The tradition of it is fantastic because it is so big and over the top - it's unlike anything else at the theatre and that's what makes it so special.”

Jamie said he was looking forward to getting into character, because Smee can be portrayed in many different ways.

He added that he hoped the audience would get behind the cast by joining in wholeheartedly.

Peter Pan, which will be produced by UK Productions Ltd, is the first professional pantomime to be played out in the town since the early 1960s, and marks a dramatic turnaround in the fortunes of the theatre.

Under the direction of theatre manager Martin Halliday, in recent times audiences have trebled as major touring productions, high profile artistes, opera and ballet companies have visited as well as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, who have used the Marina as their regional residence since 2005.

Mr Halliday said attracting Peter Pan is the icing on the cake.

“It's been a very long, long time. It's a big moment for the theatre and for the town. We see the pantomime as the final piece of the jigsaw in rebuilding of the Marina. Panto is about the audience development and how we get people in of a young age. A lot of people have their first taste of the theatre at a pantomime and we weren't able to offer that in a way that was convenient to parents and cost effective. Now we are.”

Peter Pan runs from Thursday, December 11, until Sunday, January 4, with performances every day except Christmas Day. For more information and to book tickets, telephone the box office on 01502 533200.

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