Peter Pan at Mayflower Theatre BIG INTERVIEW: 'You’re in for a treat, there’s already a kind of family bond’

The moment The Guide sits down with Darren Day and Jaymi Hensley, the camaraderie between the two performers is obvious.

Thursday, 12th December 2019, 3:25 pm
Updated Thursday, 19th December 2019, 9:41 am
Jaymi Hensley as Peter Pan, The Grumbleweeds as the pirates, Darren Day as Mr Smee and Cassie Compton as Wendy

The pair are starring in Peter Pan, this year’s panto at Mayflower Theatre in Southampton, with the former playing first mate Mr Smee, and the latter in the title role.

They met last year when they were also in Peter Pan, at the Birmingham Hippodrome.

But hopefully this year things will run a little more smoothly – Jaymi was again playing Peter, but Darren was a hurried replacement for Jimmy Osmond in the role of the villainous Captain Hook after the American star suffered a stroke mid-run.

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Peter Pan panto at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

And the two have clearly formed a mutual appreciation society.

Darren says of Jaymi: ‘He's the best Peter Pan I've ever seen, and without a doubt one of the finest male voices I've ever heard. If you've never heard Jaymi sing before, you will just be blown away.’

Jaymi came to fame as a member of boyband Union J, who were fourth in the 2012 series of The X Factor.

‘And he just has every ingredient that Peter Pan needs – and probably other ingredients that other Peter Pans don't as well.’

‘Can you send me this recording?’ Jaymi leans over and asks The Guide with a laugh, pointing at the voice recorder. ‘I like that!’

This year’s show also reunites Cassie Compton (Wendy), Kellie Gnauck (Tinkerbell) and the Timbuktu Tumblers from the Birmingham cast. Former Wet Wet Wet frontman Marti Pellow joins them as Hook, with the Grumbleweeds as the hapless pirates.

‘You’re in for a treat,’ says Jaymi of the Birmingham connection. ‘There’s already a kind of family bond, which is important in panto.

‘You do get that very quickly, but the fact that we’ve already got it, there are pre-existing relationships and inside jokes, which is important in panto, and we’re already really comfortable with each other. It's going to be really special this year.’

There’s another reason Jaymi and Darren have got a strong bond. For most of the past year, Jaymi has been the lead in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat on tour – the same role which gave Darren his big break when he took over from Phillip Schofield in 1993 while still a relative unknown.

‘I love it,’ says Jaymi. ‘It's the best fun I've had, aside from panto, in many years. It’s just joyous.

‘I've had the best year because I did panto for two months, and then I went in to Joseph.

‘So for a whole year now, I will have just been having a laugh on stage, which is the best thing to do.

‘Maybe I should do something dark next year,’ he jokes, ‘just to balance it out.’

Darren adds: ‘That was what was so lovely about last year, because Jamie landed the role of Joseph in the last few days of us working together [in Birmingham].

‘I felt a little bit like a proud dad when he sent me a picture of him at the press launch wearing the coat.’

Jaymi had auditioned for Joseph one morning on a mad-dash run to London to then return for the evening performance of Peter Pan. He was offered the role the next day.

With Jaymi’s bandmates in Union J having already agreed to take a break in 2019, ‘I could just say “yes” and take control of my destiny.

‘I remember running to Darren’s dressing room and saying: “I got it!” Everything was in the right place at the right time. He’s my good luck charm – Mr Darren Day.’

It has also seen Jaymi getting the chance to broaden his range.‘What I love most about this has been showing a side of me that I've not necessarily been able to show in a band.

You have to be one unit as a band, and I never really had being a soloist in my bones. I just relied on the fact that I was in a band and I was comfortable with that.

But Peter Pan and Joseph have definitely given me a whole new load of confidence in myself, in life, not just as a performer.’

‘Joseph gives you a sense of self-pride because it is such an iconic role.

‘You’ve had Jason Donovan, Phillip Schofield, Donny Osmond, Jimmy Osmond – all these huge names.

‘I'm some kid who grew up on a council estate, who didn’t go to a stage school, and it wasn’t going to happen to me. But then I did The X Factor and that was a whirlwind, and you kind of forget your real life…

’I think both of us really appreciate what we do,’ he says acknowledging Darren, ‘I know you’ve been doing this a lot longer than I have...’

‘A lot longer!’ adds Darren, a veteran of many TV, stage and big screen roles.

Jaymi continues: ‘But I still wake up every day after seven years and think I’m blagging this.

‘I’m still lucky enough to get up and do a job that I absolutely adore and I don't have to go into an office and work at a tough job that I hate.

‘It’s the best fun and it is such a privilege to do what we do.’

‘And I'm still blagging it after 31 years,’ Darren chuckles.

After Peter Pan finishes, Jaymi admits he’ll be at a loose end for the first time in a while.

‘I like the uncertainty –- but I do panic. I’ve worked every day for the last year, but when this finishes I’ve not got anything. But I love letting things come to you, if it’s meant to be, it will happen.’

Earlier this week it was announced that Darren is joining the cast of a revival of the musical Mame, and he is also planning to record an album in the new year and undergo a solo headline tour.

‘Both those are going to be a challenge,’ says Darren, ‘when you get to my age, you’ve got to challenge yourself and do other stuff, and break the mould a bit.’

Peter Pan at Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, is on now until January 5.

Tickets cost from £15 to £39.50. Go to mayflower.org.uk.

I was On Opportunity Knocks Yeah, in 1988. So that's where I think of my career as beginning, although the next five years I did the clubs and stuff like that.

And then in ’93, five years later, that was when I auditioned for Joseph and that's where my life changed overnight.

Simon Cowell was in the audience, he came back and offered me a record deal with RCA. Nigel Lithgow offered me a deal with ITV - it just changed my life overnight, literally.

They were thinking that some big Hollywood star was going to come into Joseph, it so my nickname when i was at the Palladium after I got the gig was Darren who?

Thank god he decided to go with the unknown takes over. I honestly wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that, and that’s why I was so chuffed for Jamie, because Joseph for me is such a special show.

And my opening night at the Palladium, career-wise there was there's nothing that comes close to that.

The word you used earlier for Joseph, and for this show, joyous, it really sums it up because we will have a joyous time this Christmas

J: So will audiences. I've done pantos for four years now, and this show, this company, we love it.

And I think some stars go into panto for the pay cheque and they want to work over Christmas but can’t really be arsed to commit to it and we love it.