Portsmouth panto Peter Pan sees brave News reporter Millie go flying

As a child I dreamed of flying but no matter how many times I launched myself from the sofa to the armchair I always fell to earth with a bump. 

But thanks to a little bit of fairy dust and the magic of the Christmas panto season I was given the chance to fulfil my childhood fantasy. 

Reporter Millie Salkfield dressed as tinkerbell learning how to 'fly' at the Peter Pan production at the New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth

Reporter Millie Salkfield dressed as tinkerbell learning how to 'fly' at the Peter Pan production at the New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth

This year's pantomime at the New Theatre Royal in Guildhall Walk, Portsmouth, is Peter Pan with the stars ready to fly through the air entertaining families over the festive period. 

And, thanks to a gap in their flying schedule, they offered me the opportunity to step into Tinkerbell’s tutu, get strapped into a harness and fly. 

I must admit that although it was an opportunity not to be missed, I was somewhat nervous. 

Mainly because my photographer Habib Rahman had three cameras, plus a GoPro, and video camera with him, so I knew there would be evidence of my venture into Neverland out there forever.

Reporter Millie Salkfield dressed as tinkerbell learning how to 'fly' at the Peter Pan production at the New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth.

Reporter Millie Salkfield dressed as tinkerbell learning how to 'fly' at the Peter Pan production at the New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth.

The cast and crew at New Theatre Royal couldn’t have been nicer and put my mind at ease, assuring me I wouldn’t be leaving the theatre in a body cast having fallen 20ft.

Flyman Steve Brooks (yep, that’s his real title) had everything under control and promised  he wouldn’t let me fall. 

If I was in any doubt the full body harness I was strapped into left no room for concern. 

I was wrapped up so tight that to say it was a little uncomfortable is an understatement.  It felt like a corset and the straps around the thighs dug in deep so I knew I wasn't about to slip out. Phew.  My generous editor thought we (or rather, I) should go the whole hog and dress up in character. I’d like to see him trussed up in a tutu...

Flyman Stephen Brook and costume designer preparing Millie for her flight.

Flyman Stephen Brook and costume designer preparing Millie for her flight.

Tinkerbell was the only choice for me, although interestingly she is one of the characters who does not fly in the production.

Costume designer Naomi Gibbs told me she had to make special costumes for Peter, Wendy, Michael and John because of their tendency to soar heavenwards during the play.

‘I had to measure where the rope clips would be on their body, making sure it was the same height on their costume,’ explains Naomi, pictured bottom right.

‘It was important to ensure their costumes wouldn’t get pulled in an ugly direction (by ropes) and that they were still able to move in the air.’

Given that Tinkerbell’s costume was not fly-ready, the tutu did bunch up a little but it didn’t really matter to me.

I was a fairy with wings ready to glide daintily through the air.

Surprisingly staff believe this is the first time the theatre has staged a production of Peter Pan since it opened in the late 1800s.

The first performance of J. M. Barrie’s most famous work, appeared in the form of a play in 1904.

‘We can’t find anything on having done Peter Pan before so this is really exciting’, says head of marketing Andy Sheppard.  ‘What is also great is that Kirby’s AFX do the flying mechanisms and they were the company to do the flying for the very first showing of Peter Pan, which is lovely continuation of history.’

Knowing I had more than 100 years of solid engineering holding me up I felt pretty secure.

Steve went to the side of the stage and pulled hard on the rope.

My tummy did a little flip as my feet slowly began to lift off the stage floor and I felt myself moving upwards.

It was such a strange sensation as I went up first a foot – at which stage Steve checked that I was happy to go higher. A little gingerly, I gave him the thumbs up. 

I ended up 10ft off the ground and, once up there, our photographer asked me to pose. But it’s hard to be graceful when you’re dangling in mid-aid.

Originally I’d envisioned myself twirling, twisting, perhaps doing back-flips on the ropes. 

But it was all I could do to stay upright and it certainly gave me a taste of how hard it is for the actors who do this day-in-day-out for the whole run.

But looking out into the gods was a wonderful experience – and one very few people get to enjoy.

Director Scott Ramsay believes there is a special magic in Peter Pan which makes it such a hit with families. ‘Everyone has a bit of Peter Pan in them, everyone wants to retain a little bit of their youth and of course that isn’t easy to do. 

‘Neverland brings people’s dreams to life on stage.’

I couldn’t agree more.

Panto round-up

Kings Theatre, Southsea

Cinderella

Until January 6

kingsportsmouth.co.uk

Groundlings Theatre, Portsea

Cinderella

Until January 6

groundlings.co.uk

Chichester Festival Theatre

Sleeping Beauty

Until December 30

cft.org.uk

Ferneham Hall, Fareham

Cinderella

Until January 6

fernehamhall.co.uk

The Spring, Havant

Hansel and Gretal

Until December 30

thespring.co.uk

Titchfield Festival Theatre

Peter Pan

Until December 22

titchfieldfestivaltheatre.com

Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

Dick Whittington

Until January 6

mayflower.org.uk

Theatre Royal, Winchester

Beauty and the Beast

Until January 6

theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk