reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds on 14 December
Chris Hannon’s script and the co-direction of Karen Simpson and David Whitney have really found the formula for a Theatre Royal pantomime. Their version of the story of Dick Whittington is replete with local touches which seem natural rather than afterthoughts and the whole show has a subtly period edge which suits this Georgian playhouse perfectly, including Julia Cave’s choreography.
We have a Principal Boy Dick (Jessica Spalis) who brings just the right teenage gawkiness to the part. Her trusty companion Tommy the cat is mimed by Corey Cross whose costume and acrobatics have elements of an hommage to Grimaldi; his excursions into the auditorium have the children competing to pet him.
Indeed a delicate whiff of Trelawny of the Wells imbues the entire production. The Fitzwarren emporium is a failing bookshop with bespectacled Alice (Tessa Kadler) as its liveliest item. Her father Francis (Nigel Lister) is ineffectual and in the shadow of his millionnaire expatriate brother Ferdnando. Winona Whittington arrives in London in search of her wayward son, rather than being the Fitzwarrens’ cook.
Chris Clarkson makes this Dame part into a real three-dimensional character, thus helping the often disparate elements of the pantomime to coalesce. Sparkly help is at hand in the shape of Sarah Lawn’s Fairy Pearl while Tom Roberts’ Sir Reginald Ratfiend twirls his tail as an alternative to moustaches with villainous effect and directs his troupe of ratlings to do their worst.
He’s the current Lord Mayor London, so has a double layer of power, and his appetite gnaws through books as well as foodstuffs. When he manages to shipwreck the Fitzwarren party however it is on Ferdnando’s paradise island (cue a u/v light sequence). Not even Nerine Skinner’s Nibbles, Ratfiend’s resourceful sidekick, can now alter the triumph of good over evil.
Dawn Allsopp is the designer for the deliberately quirky sets and costumes. The musical director is Ward Baker, tucked with Luke Petitt into a stage-left corner of the pit; a couple of toy theatre musician figures have been painted to the side of them. That’s just the sort of touch which gives this show the edge of some of its more lavish competitors.
Five star rating.
Dick Whittington continues at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds until 14 January. Performance dates and times vary, so check with the theatre’s website: www.theatreroyal.org for details and seat availability.
(reviewed at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester on 3 De ember)
The book for this year’s Mercury pantomime is by Fine Time Fontayne and the theatre’s arttistic director Daniel Buckroyd, who is also responsible for the staging. Both the sets and scene drops are by David Shields; his costumes are colourful with some marvellously over-the-top wigs for Antony Stuart-Hicks’ Sarah the Cook. Stuart-Hicks has a flirtatious way with the audeince, suggestive of high camp but always remembering the younger members of the audience.
Two theatre favourites are in the cast – Dale Superville as Idle Jack and Ignatius Anthony as Rayy King, a tycoon with a novel approach to rodent recycling and designs on the London mayoral dignity. Fairy Bow-Bells (Barbara Hockaday) needs all her magic to keep his amibitions in check. Fortunately naîve country-boy Dick (Glen Adamson) has his own aide, in the shape of Gracie Lai’s zebra-striped black-and-white Thomasina, indeed a moggie with attitude.
Grace Eccle makes a charming Alice with Richard Earl bumbling around in his spice emporium as Alderman Fitzwarren. Three hallowed gag scenes – cake-making in the kitchen, “The twelve days of Christmas” and the bench ghost – are all given a novel twist (I won’t spoil their impact by describing these – find out for yourself!) and Charlie Morgan’s choreography makes a real impact. Musical director Richard Reeday provides some sympathetic accompaniments.
Jack and the Beanstalk runs at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 8 January. Check the theatre website (mwrcurytheatre.co.uk) for performance times.
(reviewed at the Palace Theatre, Watford on 11 December 2015)
Andrew Pollard is the author of this year’s home-grown pantomime at the Palace Theatre, Watford. In one sense, this Dick Whittington is a pared-down production with a total cast of seven and a three-piece led by musical director Andy Ralls band perched high above Cleo Pettitt’s bright sets. But that doesn’t mean that we feel in the least bit short-changed.
Our hero is played by Joseph Prwen, escaping from Watford (where else?) and his domineering mum (Terence Frisch as Mrs Whittington) in search of fame and the fortune suggested by the myth of London’s gold-paved streets. London has been taken over by rats as the drop curtain makes clear. You can pick out Currant Cakey’s Globe Theatre, the down-river HP Sauce Bridge and the new National Rail Planning HQ (formerly the Tower of London).
Dick encounters a stray Tabby Cat, to whose feline features Aveta Chen’s delicate oriental face is admirably adapted. Her gestures are in keeping as she mimes, dances and rat-catches her way into Alderman Fitzwarren (Walter van Dyk)’s cheese emporium. Dick has by this time fallen head over heels with free-spending Alice Fitzwarren (Jill McAusland). No wonder Fitzwarren is running out of money as well as stock.
You don’t want to meddle with Erica Guyett’s Queen Rat. A thoroughly piratical person for whom apparently Fairy Bowbells (Arabella Rodrigo) is no match. One thing which this type of pantomime allows is a deeper development of each character than is often the case, and director Brigid Larmour allows proper space for this. So Dick changes gradually from someone to whom things happen to a person who solves problems.
Frisch plays one of those no-nonsense types of Dame, from the first lollipop lady entrance onwards. There’s more to van Dyk’s alderman and his relationship with the daughter he loves but who also irritates him than we are usually allowed to fathom. Not that the traditional gags are missing; the ghost scene involves a white rabbit (Welsh rarebit) and the song-sheet is, most appropriately, “Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner”. The silver and salmon costumes for the walk-down look gorgeous.
Dick Whittington runs at the Palace Theatre, Watford until 2 January.