Larger-than-life star comes to town

By Andrew ClarkeArts Editor“AVAST me hearties, where is that scurvy knave, Peter Pan? I wish to skewer him on the end of my sword.”Larger-than-life actor Brian Blessed brought an early taste of the panto season to Ipswich yesterday as, dressed as Captain Hook, he swang on the rigging on a Thames barge and searched for his arch-foe.

By Andrew Clarke

Arts Editor

“AVAST me hearties, where is that scurvy knave, Peter Pan? I wish to skewer him on the end of my sword.”

Larger-than-life actor Brian Blessed brought an early taste of the panto season to Ipswich yesterday as, dressed as Captain Hook, he swang on the rigging on a Thames barge and searched for his arch-foe.

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Unfortunately for Hook, Peter Pan - played by CBBC presenter Kirsten O'Brien - was at home on her sick bed, unable to come and do battle with the fearsome pirate.

Blessed was in town as part of the launch for Peter Pan, its new professional pantomime, co-sponsored by the East Anglian Daily Times, which opens at the Regent Theatre on December 17.

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“I hate cheap and nasty pantomime. I won't have anything to do with it, but I adore real pantomime, pantomime done well and I love Peter Pan,” he said.

“It's a brilliant story, which thrills and entertains the children and allows us adults to rediscover our ability to dream.”

Within minutes of meeting the ebullient actor, it is clear that Blessed is as large a personality off screen as he is on. He talks passionately about the role of Hook and his love for family-friendly theatre.

“It is increasingly important to reach out to children and communicate with them - and to remind adults that you never forget to dream,” said Blessed.

“Good pantomime and the story of Peter Pan, in particularly, is fantastic for that because it is an epic story which captivates children's imaginations, involves them, moves them and my intention is that they will leave the theatre utterly exhausted having had the best experience of their lives.

“You have to give 500% at each and every performance. Why I love Hook is because he is enormous fun to play. He is a larger-than-life character and the audience love to hate him.”

He added: “This is the fourth time I have played the role and each time I get more and more out of him.

“He is the ultimate villain and I love is the fact that after all the shouting and bellowing, he is at his most dangerous when he is very quiet and very polite and that always has children on the edge of their seats.”

Richard Cadell, Peter Pan producer, said they were pulling out all the stops for the Regent Theatre's first professional pantomime in 25 years.

“It's going to be a real event. Everything from the script to the set is being tailor made for Ipswich,” he promised.

Mr Cadell said the scenery - including a pirate ship and the largest, most ferocious crocodile seen on a theatre stage - were being constructed specifically for the Regent Theatre stage.

“Also we have engaged a specialist flying company, who have already been into the theatre and measured everything up, and will be rigging the most ambitious flying system seen outside the West End,” he added.

“So Kirsten O'Brien will be flying out right over the audience before coming to fight Pan's final battle with Hook.”

Mr Cadell said a laser company would also be contributing more heart-stopping special effects - but, for Blessed, it was the script's adherence to JM Barrie's original book that was all-important.

“It is such a brilliant story, a fascinating study of two people who can't live without each other. Hook and Pan are doomed to fight forever. It is an interesting to note that at one point Hook spares Pan's life when he has the opportunity to kill him,” he said.

“And yet for all the show and bravado that surrounds Hook and Pan, I believe that Peter Pan is really the story of Wendy. It is the story of her growth from a girl into a young woman as she leaves the nursery behind.

“I play Wendy's father, Mr Darling, as well as Hook and I like to place little echoes of Hook in Mr Darling and vice-versa.

“There are moments, very dramatic moments, when the other character comes through. It is as if Wendy is dreaming it all and is perhaps on the verge of waking up.”

Blessed said the performance would be a real show-stopping affair and would offer something for every age.

“It's great to get the kids away from the television or from the computer screen just for a few hours and hopefully plant in them something that will flower and grow in later life. Theatre is magical,” he added.

Blessed also revealed that it was pantomime that inspired him to be an actor. “I grew in a small village in south Yorkshire and I used to go to the theatre with Patrick Stewart, who was two years younger than me, and lived in the next village,” he recalled.

“The production that left the biggest impression on me and on Patrick was a superb production of Jack and the Beanstalk which we saw in Sheffield.

“The giant was 20ft tall, the sets and costumes were brash and bold and we were amazed and I think it was on that day that we both knew that we too had to become actors.”

Peter Pan, starring Brian Blessed and Kirsten O'Brien, runs from December 17 to January 15.

Tickets are now on sale priced from £10.50 to £18.60. There is a 10% discount on all tickets booked before September 1 and there are also specially priced family deals.

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