2017 - Dick Whittington

Maggie Uttley's lively production of this well loved pantomime classic looked at the familiar story of a young lad seeking fame and fortune from a novel perspective, namely, the rodents and the felines so
critical to the plot. Usually sidelined as incidental extras in a very human story, here the Rats and the Cats were brilliantly brought to life by wonderfully stylised costumes in "Liquorice Allsort" colours,
excellent make-up and some clever, characterful acting by the talented cast. These endearing animals, yet so human, dominated the piece and drove it forward with lots of twists along the way.

The curtain rose on a gang of cool, trendily outfitted, streetwise cats very ably led by Deni Smale as Tom, the ever resourceful and calculating "Top Cat" of the gang. Supported by the Sassy Cat Sisters, (Sheila Partington and Lynn Wright) they all led an idyllic life of repose after the "Peace Deal" struck with the Rats of London, which rendered the very tiring business of chasing and catching rats obselete. Rat romance was provided by Rosamunde - a pretty in pink Sarah Mapleston,-
who was hotly wooed by Cat and Rat alike, with Bruiser the Cat and Roland, a French rat ( Mitch Mitchell and Mike Hibbit), the rival suitors. Special mention must be made of Poppy Ward and Izzy Roan as Reggie and Ronnie, an endearing pair of cockney "likely lad" rats, always on hand with lively banter and cheeky one liners. The peace is shattered by the return from banishment of the unscrupulous and dastardly King Rat,(a marvellously malevolent Nigel Adams).

Meanwhile, our hero Whittington, convincingly played by Thomas Harris, begins to work for the somewhat pompous and bumbling Alderman Fitzwarren (Alby Wright) and thereby meets his very capable, no nonsense daughter, Alice (played with just the right combination of charm and determination by Leah Maskell). The main comic moments were provided by the delightfully "man hungry" Sarah the Cook (a hilariously resplendent Trish Harris), sporting a vast collection of outrageous yet elegant costumes and the dimwitted servant boy, Jack, (played by her real life son Daniel). Their hilarious baking scene in the kitchen was a pure classic panto gem, with flour and water liberally going everywhere except in the bowl!

In Act 2, both animals and humans were literally and figuratively all at sea on a ship bound for the Barbary Coast, where Fitzwarren has agreed to rid the place of rats (just as he claims to have done in
London-not knowing that it was really the animals' own doing!). Intending to supply the local prince (a somewhat harassed and under pressure David Parsonson) with rat poison, his plan is foiled by a
leaking hold which renders the poison unusable so it's the cats to the rescue once more; the Rat King is vanquished and all ends happily with the usual happy pairing up in the finale!

Well executed song and dance routines for principals and chorus alike (ably supported by Mags Broadhurst at the piano) and excellent sound effects gave the show a celebratory and engaging feel. The five lavish sets (by Chris Partridge),which magically recreated the atmosphere of Georgian London, the Prince's oriental palace and the poop deck of the ship, mast, rigging and all, framed this spectacular and stylish production perfectly.

Clare Hamilton