Willaston’s George Knapper on panto with Ian Beale at the Crewe Lyceum

caption: George Knapper as Peter Pan at Crewe Lyceum.

caption: George Knapper as Peter Pan at Crewe Lyceum. - Credit: Archant

When George Knapper from Willaston steps out at Crewe Lyceum as Peter Pan, he will be returning to the theatre where he served his dramatic apprenticeship

caption: Adam Woodyatt at Captain Hook.

caption: Adam Woodyatt at Captain Hook. - Credit: Archant

At the age of 20, and still at drama school, landing the title role in Peter Pan at Crewe Lyceum was a big break for George Knapper.

While still learning his craft, George hits the big time, flying around the stage as the boy who never ages, playing opposite some old hands at the drama game, including EastEnders perennial Adam Woodyatt (the soap opera’s Ian Beale).

It’s a homecoming for George. Brought up in nearby Willaston, he learned his first dance steps as a pupil of Yvonne School of Dance - now YSD Theatre School - in Crewe. And he trod the boards at the Lyceum countless times in amateur productions.

‘Every year or two, we used to do a show with Yvonne School of Dance called Showtime, which was a cabaret performance of a load of different musical numbers,’ recalls George. ‘Acton Operatic Society perform all their shows there. I did Oliver, Scrooge, Annie, and with Crewe Amateur Musicals Society we did Jesus Christ Superstar.’

George is in his final year of studies at Performance Preparation Academy in Guildford, Surrey. But his family home is still in Willaston, between Crewe and Nantwich.

‘Last year I had to stay in Guildford and work over Christmas, and got only a couple of days to go home. This year, I’m going to be home for just over a month, which is nice.’

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George is one of five children for dad Gary - a computer whizz, according to George - and mum Janet.

‘My mum was a dance teacher at Yvonne School of Dance and she got me and my older brother Billy and sister Libby to start dance lessons at the age of six or seven,’ says George.

After a brief dalliance with the idea of taking up golf professionally, George found renewed enthusiasm for song and dance at Malbank School and Sixth Form, Nantwich.

‘We used to go on a trip to London with Malbank School to watch two shows and then do workshops at Pineapple studios with the shows we watched, so if we watched Wicked, we would do a Wicked workshop,’ says George.

‘Doing that one year, I was watching a live musical in London and I just thought, I love theatre, so I made the decision to audition for professional drama school. The dream is to stay in theatre.’

He returns to a Lyceum which has been much improved. A year ago, HQ Theatres and Hospitality - part of Qdos Entertainment Group - began operating the 102-year-old Lyceum on behalf of Cheshire East Council. Since, then, it has been given an internal refurbishment returning it to lush, theatrical decor in red and gold. HQ believe those who come to the Lyceum only once a year for the panto will be in for a surprise.

‘It’s not just going to be a different theatre, it’s going to be a completely different production,’ says a spokeswoman. ‘We’ve put a huge amount of effort into the pantomime, produced by Qdos Entertainment, which is the world’s biggest pantomime producer.’

The Lost Boys are drawn from George’s old dance school, YSD Theatre School. And we’ll all be booing and hissing at Adam Woodyatt as Captain Hook.

‘I love playing this character. Who wouldn’t? The iconic Captain Hook from Peter Pan... how lucky am I?’ says Adam. ‘ The excitement from the audience and especially the children is amazing. It’s always a pleasure but genuinely hard work. However, pantomime makes my festive season complete. I do have friends in Cheshire who with their families will be visiting the theatre over the pantomime season.’

Peter Pan is at Crewe Lyceum from December 14 to January 5.