Dick Whittington is one of the better pantomimes with a well known and coherent narrative. The show is written, and directed, by Dexter and Emily Whitehead who know a thing or two about pantomimes. They understand the formula, and deliver it. Pantomime is a special theatrical form, and a vital one. It is the gateway through which children are introduced to theatre. Done well, it produces converts for life. I brought along Harry aged seven, and Jacob aged five, as my expert reviewing team.
The show is dominated by two outstanding performances. Phebe Jackson flutters and glows whenever she appears as Fairy Bowbells, her affected cockney accent and scraped back black hair remind me of Martine McCutcheon, whose voice she compares with very favourably. Her singing is fabulous, her Fairyness faultless. In pantomime good has to be countered with evil which brings me to the other outstanding performance, that of Robbie Newton as King Rat. His physical moves are always rodentesque, he spits and snarls his lines, and revels in his role as anti-hero. He had the good fortune to be playing to a Brownie Pack at the front on his side of the stage for this performance. I am not sure who enjoyed the experience more, but I would advise a check on the roof as it was raised several times by the intensity of the girls’ jeers and boos. Whenever Fairy Bowbells or King Rat appear on stage, the energy levels of everyone soared to maximum.
Paul Atkins plays the dame straight, neither camp, nor overtly feminine, but with a great range of costumes and wigs, the latter of which may need a few extra hair pins for forthcoming shows. Comedy duo Billy Bottle ( Mark Natrass) and Sammy Sack ( James Hutt), and Amelia Farrelly as Sally Slack provide the slapstick which the children enjoyed.
The supporting cast is large, filling the modest Sutton Arts stage. Sophie McCoy is fragrant and comely, as Alice, opposite love interest Dick (Tim Benjamin) who seems more surprised that he has become Mayor of London than Sadiq Khan was. Izzy Beardsmore commits to her feline persona as Tommy with enthusiasm and skill, Paul Dent is pleasingly paternal as Alderman Fitzwarren and forms a nice double act with Sarah the cook. Th hugely talented Suzy Donnelly makes the most of her cameo as the Sultana of Morocco, who is displeased to intruders, and men at that, on her land without good raisin.
Having saved on licensing fees with an in-house writing team, money is available for a decent stage and quality costuming. It shows. Mark Natrass’s set is versatile and always convinces, the on- stage structural deterioration of the Saucy Sal being particularly impressive, and the costumes are lavish. The latter is particularly noticeable for the full cast song and dance numbers, the best of which was “In the Navy” – well done to the choreographing team.
The children loved it, all the traditional call and response sequences are present, the standard of production was consistently high. The show runs until 22/12/18, catch some of the few remaining tickets if you can.