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Maidstone studios come alive with panto adventure

By John Nurden

Television is no stranger to creating fantasy. So when producer Danny Wright decided to stage Peter Pan, it seemed like a perfect panto partnership.

Maidstone Studios - home to the BBC’s Later With Jools Holland and ITV’s Take Me Out - have been turned into a 1,100-seat theatre for a £500,000 panto gamble by Vexx Pantomimes - but has it paid off?

The magic begins with the arrival of The X Factor singer Amelia Lily, who plays Tinkerbell the fiery fairy and flies in from the back of the auditorium while Peter is played by The X Factor 2010 finalist Lloyd Daniels, now a panto pro with seven under his belt.

Magic: X Factor singer Amelia Lily, who finished behind Little Mix, plays Tinkerbell the fiery fairy with X Factor 2010 finalist Lloyd Daniels in the title role of Peter Pan at the Maidstone Studios

The opening scenes, save for a disco-dancing dog, seemed a little out of kilter but stick with it - there are four stars who are worth their weight in gold.

Former Hollyoaks’ hunk James Sutton plays a blinder as Captain Hook with his ingenious selfie-stick.

Plenty of Hook action is James Sutton in Peter Pan at the Maidstone Studios

The classically-trained actor is a joy to hiss with his deliciously well-pronounced delivery guaranteed to send shivers down the back of even the toughest child.

Amelia Lily plays fiery fairy Tinkerbell in Maidstone's Peter Pan

The banter between him and veteran dame Dave Short, who plays Mrs Smee and is a carpenter by trade, is comedy gold.

But the surprise of the night was dancing double-act Chris Donnelly and Wes Clack. The pair of 27-year-olds who won Sky's Got To Dance talent show were drafted in at the last minute when Adam Hoffman, who was playing Mr Smee, had to pull out through illness.

Flying tonight: Lloyd Daniels as Peter Pan at the Maidstone Studios
Pascal Craymer as Tiger Lily in Peter Pan at the Maidstone Studios
Dave Short as Dame Mrs Starkey in Peter Pan at Maidstone.
Maidstone's Jazmin Patey-Ford is on home turf playing Wendy in Peter Pan at the Maidstone Studios

Our guide to pantomimes across Kent

The friends, who had just a week's rehearsal, play piratical nincompoops Swash and Buckle and turn panto on its head with their stunning hip hop dance routines, watertight comedy and mop sketch.

They are the Ant and Dec of dance - and Wes has just moved to Kent with his fiance Sophie Vitorino in time for the panto run.

Swash and Buckle alias Chris Donnelly and Wes Clack

TOWIE star and former Miss England finalist Pascal Craymer plays Tiger Lily and Maidstone's own Jazmin Patey-Ford is Wendy Darling.

Vexx Productions seem to have pulled off their giant gamble by taking on the town's traditional Hazlitt Theatre panto.

It remains to be seen if the town can support two pantos but there is already talk of Vexx, comprising Danny, his brother Lee and wife Clare, returning to the studios next year.

Vexx Group producer Danny Wright
Mops at the ready: Peter Pan at the Maidstone Studios

Yes, there were a few disappointments such as a shortage of well-known songs, no follow-spots and a rather shabby white front curtain. But for a first panto, the standard was truly amazing.

The singing and dancing were stunning and Paul Richards' four-piece band was mind-blowingly tight, although it might have been a tad loud for those in the front seats.

Peter Pan runs until Saturday, January 6. Tickets cost from £24. To book go to maidstonepanto.com, email tickets@maidstonepanto.com or call 0800 999 7755.

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