Blessed be - it's Panto time

CAPTAIN Hook sailed into town vowing to defeat Peter Pan as he planted the early seeds of pantomime fever. Bursting with enthusiasm, Brian Blessed, who is set to bring the evil villain to the stage in Ipswich this Christmas, stepped ashore at the Waterfront to herald the official launch of the Regent's first professional pantomime for 25 years.

CAPTAIN Hook sailed into town vowing to defeat Peter Pan as he planted the early seeds of pantomime fever.

Bursting with enthusiasm, Brian Blessed, who is set to bring the evil villain to the stage in Ipswich this Christmas, stepped ashore at the Waterfront to herald the official launch of the Regent's first professional pantomime for 25 years.

Every bit the baddie donned in red jacket and curly wig with a menacing hook for a hand, he brought with him the formidable presence and booming voice that look set to make him such a hit with audiences later this year.

His co-star Kirsten O'Brien, who will be playing Peter Pan was too ill to attend which left Brian to cast the first sword swipe in a war between the two which will be waged for a month on the Regent stage.

"She's scared stiff of me," he laughed.

Brian was making his first visit to Ipswich but he spoke of an affinity to the town. His wife Hildegard Neil, who will be appearing alongside him as Mrs Darling, once appeared in town playing Titiana in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Brian has a close friendship with Ipswich-born theatre director Trevor Nunn which has given him a knowledge of the greatest Ipswich Town players of all time.

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Though Brian has since become famed for many roles on television and film, which will this year include a role as Pope Pius II, the voice of Oberon in Disney's animated version of Midsummer Night's Dream and both Dukes in Kenneth Branagh's forthcoming big screen presentation of As You Like It, that pantomime memory has stayed with him.

As such he hopes to have a similarly inspirational impact on other children when Peter Pan takes to the Regent stage in December.

"I don't look on coming to Ipswich as coming in here plundering, being well paid and going. That's not my style," he said.

"This means more to me than all the films I'm doing for the simple reason I just believe implicitly in setting the seeds in children's minds and reawakening our own dreamscape. That child in us is so important.

"Our pantomime has gravitas, wonderful comedy, wonderful magic but is very, very old fashioned and adheres to the book. It's great at last to come to Ipswich and we're going to have a really, really great show."

Meanwhile, producer Richard Cadell spoke of everyone's excitement at launching such a spectacular production in Ipswich.

Preparations for the show are already well under way. When it takes to the stage in December it is set to stun the audience with Peter Pan flying out into the Regent auditorium and across the heads of the audience, what promises to be the largest crocodile ever seen on the British stage, special laser effects, acrobatics, specially built sets and scenery and a cast of more than 30.

There will also be opportunities for children from the region to appear in the show in the roles of Peter, John and the Lost Boys, auditions for which will be held later this year.

Richard, of Duo Entertainment, said: "This is a very, very special day. We're so proud to be involved in Ipswich for this first and most spectacular pantomime."

n Peter Pan will be at Ipswich Regent from December 17 to January 15.

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