Boy George In Neverland: The Karma Chameleon’s Swashbuckling Debut As Captain Hook

Boy George Makes His Swashbuckling Pantomime Debut as Captain Hook in Peter Pan, the World’s Biggest Panto

Christmas theatre means just one thing to millions of families in the UK–a trip to their local pantomime, an old school music hall-style show boasting a glorious mix of madness and mayhem in an irreverent clash of music, comedy and audience participation based around one of a series of popular fairytales.

For those who have never been to a “panto” before, it can prove a riotous assault on the senses as the audience responds to the action onstage with age old call-outs (It’s BEHIND you!” and “Oh, no you WON’T!” are a couple of favorites) before they all come together for a big communal singalong, known as “the songsheet” at the end. Along the way, a few kids might even end up on stage to do a “party piece” for which they receive a little gift.

This year, World’s Biggest Panto Ltd’s production is Peter Pan, and handing out those gifts is none other that Eighties’ pop legend, DJ and fashion icon, Boy George who, at the age of 62-years-young, is making his panto debut as arguably the coolest Captain Hook in Pantoland this year.

– Advertisement –

Boy George, real name George O’Dowd, is certainly in demand right now. The Grammy, Brit and Ivor Novello Award-winning Culture Club singer has been doing the chat show rounds of late, promoting his new autobiography, Karma. And with talk of a revival of his musical, Taboo, for London’s West End next year and the news that he’s set to take to the Broadway stage for the first time in 20 years, playing emcee Harold Zidler in the smash hit musical, Moulin Rouge (read the full story in his currency is high.

It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that his soiree into pantomime may be seen by some as an unexpected diversion. However, judging by the smile on George’s face as he scampers about the stage, picking up inflatable cannonballs to throw back at his excitable audience, it’s just what he needed. He’s obviously having a blast. So too are his newfound young fans who, at this performance are out of their seats in anticipation of firing said cannonballs back at the lovably bad villain. The screams of delight as one of the missiles bounces off their target and he bends down to recover another just makes George’s smile all the wider.

If starring in the most spectacular variety show is a medium where you might not expect to find one of the original Blitz Kids, here he is, all thoughts of The Voice, I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! and his forthcoming Broadway role parked for now (although it will come as no surprise to hear both TV shows get a mention in the show).

As he dons his hook, raises the Jolly Roger on his life-size galleon and sets sail to end the reign of Peter Pan, the Lost Boy who refused to grow up, George admits he has never actually read JM Barrie’s much loved work, although he is familiar with the story. “Peter Pan is one of those things that has always been there. I just know it,” he says, adding, “I’ve never read the Bible but I know that!”

George is clearly enjoying himself, and you don’t have to look around for proof. As he recently posted on X, formerly Twitter: “This little kid [in the audience] was so sweet, he came and threw the [cannon]ball at me. Then I got him back with a [cannon]ball. And then I put my hook out to shake his hand and he came and shook my hook. It was just such sweetness because kids see through it. They know if you’re good or bad, they totally know.”

– Advertisement –

Boy George: “Peter Pan is one of those things that has always been there.”

From slapstick to acrobatics, circus to audience participation and three massive chart hits to sing along with, there’s never a dull moment in this retelling of Peter Pan. To say it’s an “awfully big adventure” for the singer is an understatement. After all, he’s turned down offers of panto in the past. This time he just couldn’t resist the sheer scale and ambition of the producers’ vision. Touring the length and breadth of the UK, Peter Pan is a massive undertaking featuring breathtaking effects, rousing sword fights, death-defying aerial acts and all the magic of Neverland.

George explains, “With me, whenever I do something, it’s very instinctual and in the moment. I’d seen that Martin Kemp [of Spandau Ballet] had done Peter Pan on TV and thought it would a hoot.” He continues, “It’s called the World’s Biggest Panto because it takes place in arenas and even has … a huge cast and amazing digital scenery on giant screens. That scale and spectacle is what attracted me. If I was going to do a panto, it had to be something special and unique.”

Fittingly for a show boasting the biggest name on the pantomime circuit this year, this spectacular is beyond anything seen before. Transported across the country in eight enormous trailer trucks and with a cast and company in excess of 100 people, it uses 10 miles of cabling and features 1,250 local children who form junior choirs at venues along the way. And let’s not forget Captain Hook’s magnificent galleon, which is twenty-five feet long, eight feet wide and sixteen feet high. It ensures the pop star makes an eye-popping entrance which ultimately leads to that cannonball showdown.

“I get two hundred inflatable cannonballs thrown at me by the audience at every show. It’s insane. I look forward to the sword fights too,” reveals George, insisting with a laugh that he loves being in the thick of the action. “I’m definitely not hiding behind the hydraulics. When I do something I commit to it completely. I don’t do anything in a half-hearted way, whether it’s making a cup of coffee or playing Captain Hook. Although the show has traditional pantomime elements, it is so much more a mix of cirque, spectacular event and… I get a chance to fight a giant crocodile. All these things make the show fun …”

– Advertisement –

If this production of Peter Pan does one thing, it highlights the appeal of Boy George to many generations of fans. Parents and grandparents may know him for his chart successes of yesteryear and his appearance in an episode of The A Team, while youngsters will have discovered him as a judge on a singing reality competition. All will be pleased to hear that three of his biggest hits feature in the show — “Karma Chameleon,” “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?” and “The War Song”. Every one of them has audiences on their feet, clapping and singing along. Indeed, the roars of approval he gets every time he makes an entrance do more than demonstrate there’s still a lot of love for Boy George out there.

Below: Captain Hook (Boy George) with his Neverland nemesis Peter Pan (Jordan Conway)

He says, “We opened in Blackpool and it has been so much fun. I love winding the audience up so that they all boo at me. I can’t want wait to hear that response ringing around the huge arena venues we are going to visiting. {T}he way they have staged ‘War Is Stupid’ is quite amazing. There’s an army of cirque performers on stage throughout … fire-blowing, stilt-walking … and a fearless girl spinning on a six foot high windmill that is balanced on her partner’s shoulders. The whole thing is beyond better than I hoped it would be.”

Playing opposite George at every performance is daredevil comedian Jordan Conway in the title role. George loves their battles as Hook pursues the leader of the Lost Boys. “Jordan is very dedicated and has a similar sense of humor to me … He and I have a bit in the show where we trade insults, {and} every show we think of new things to say so that every performance is special,” he says.

While Jordan may be playing the titular role, it seems his Peter Pan isn’t the only boy-who-never-grew-up on the stage. George confesses, “I’ve always been a bit of a kid at heart. I still have a sense of adventure and welcome new challenges.”

Although his panto debut may have been a long time coming, the fact it’s an arena tour means George should at least be well prepared for the experience. “I love touring,” he says. “I could spend my entire life on the road. I don’t necessarily enjoy the traveling aspect of it, but I enjoy arriving in new cities and like to take in the sights. I also love a hotel room and room service.”

Sightseeing and in-room dining aside, there’s already been one highlight of this particular tour that will take some beating. George laughs as he recalls, “We had a little boy from the audience dressed as Peter Pan come up onstage to help ‘the real’ Peter Pan fight me, it was hysterical and so much fun … not just for the little boy but for all the kids.”  He adds, “I don’t see playing Captain Hook as work … I’ve never really had a regular job, so to me it’s all very exciting. and then in the New Year I’m off to Broadway.”

Contemplating his busy schedule, George pauses a beat, eyes agleam. “No rest for the wicked, that’s what they say,” he goes on. “And they don’t get any more wicked than Captain Hook.”

Liam Rudden is an award-winning playwright, broadcaster and commentator on the arts. With more than 40 years experience working in theater and media, he was for decades Entertainment and Festivals Editor of the Edinburgh Evening News. For more of his work, check out his website. He is also on X (formerly Twitter) @LiamRudden


Liverpool M&S Bank Arena 2-3 December

Cardiff Utilitarian Arena 9-10 December

Birmingham Resorts World Arena 22-23 December

Aberdeen P&J Live Arena 27 December

Glasgow OVO Hydro 29-30 December

Nottingham Motorpoint Arena 2 January 2024

London Eventim Apollo Hammersmith 5-7 January 2024

Buy Tickets Here

– Advertisement –

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.