WE are coming to the end of the pantomime season – oh yes we are! – and this year Mrs Hextol and I had the pleasure of taking our two seven-year-old granddaughters to see Peter Pan at the seaside.

And what we found there was an unusual twist to the well-worn panto plot, in that the villain of the piece wasn’t on stage, but in the foyer of the Whitley Bay Playhouse.

He didn’t have a hook for a hand, or an abnormal fear of crocodiles, but he was as black-hearted a baddie as ever trod the boards.

Before we set out, the two girls had agonised over their choice of sweeties and Fruit Shoots to sustain them through a couple of hours of vigorous audience participation, including booing, cheering, clapping, “he’s behind you” and Baby Sharking.

We had a tortuous drive through wet and windy conditions to get there, but their enthusiasm was undiminished.

That is until they entered the glittering palace of varieties, sweeties and drinks in hand, only to be stopped in their tracks by a burly security man, who made it very clear that they were not permitted to take their own refreshments into the theatre.

Four lips quivered and four eyes moistened, but the custodian of comestibles was adamant that the only refreshments permitted were those purchased within the theatre.

Being a sweet snatcher was clearly a position he had adopted many times before, and he was completely unmoved by the crestfallen children he was depriving of their refreshments.

I wondered whether having a man stealing sweets from children was all part of the show, and assumed he would appear on stage at some point in the proceedings and throw the sweets back to their owners from the stage.

Then it occurred to me that it might be a move by the health conscious People’s Republic of North Tyneside to reduce the amount of non-council controlled sugar consumed by children.

Sweet smuggling was clearly seen as a serious business down at the coast, for ladies’ bags were also being searched.

“You can buy water and popcorn from the bar” grated the bouncer, with hand out for the contraband, but I was quick enough to whisk it away, and take it back to the car in the thankfully nearby car park – not forgetting to shove a bag of black bullets into my pocket.

Others who had perhaps come by bus or other means of transport had no option other than to leave their pre-purchased sweetmeats in the care of the bouncer, where they formed a sizeable pathetic heap at his feet.

Despite the depredations of the sweetie police, the show itself was pretty good, with lots of impressive special effects, although Elise and Leonie were not to be fooled by the flying sequences of Peter and the Darling children.

“You can see they are hanging from wires, Granda” they chorused.

However, I couldn’t help thinking about the scores of amateur productions I have seen in my professional capacity over the years.

I have been to amateur shows all over Tynedale, by long gone societies such as Haltwhistle’s Portman Players and the Kielder Dramatic Society, not to mention the various companies at Hexham and Prudhoe.

Among my favourite shows was Bellingham’s version of Wind in the Willows where local GP Iain Mungall played Mr Toad, and conducted his surgeries all week with lurid splashes of bufonidian green face paint protruding from his collar.

Offering “an expert critique”, as it used to say it the programme on an amateur dramatics performance, is a tricky business where you have to walk a tight line between praising the efforts of local amateurs and recognising that people have paid to get in and are entitled to be properly entertained.

I always tried to be kind., and if someone was wooden, I tended to say they gave a solid performance, while elephantine dancing was said to have made up with enthusiasm for anything it may have lacked in expertise.

However, the sad fact is that those who have put their heart and soul into a show over many weeks of rehearsals don’t want an unbiased report in their local paper – in my experience, only unadulterated praise will do, no matter how ropey the show.

I have been called before kangaroo courts of disgruntled performers to explain my remarks and omissions, cut dead in the street, and threatened with violence by producers – but nobody ever tried to take away my mint imperials.