The carols are playing on the radio, the ice rink is up in Market Square and the John Lewis advert is on TV. Christmas is officially in the air which means only one thing for all theatre goers out there… Panto season is upon us! And what better way to start, than with Nottingham Playhouse’s yearly festive extravaganza, this year being the classic pantomime Dick Whittington. Prepare to cheer, boo, heckle, bob up and down, and basically become a kid again for this wonderfully camp night of fun.
Having not been to see a pantomime since childhood, I couldn’t help but smile fondly at writer and director Kenneth Alan Taylor’s wacky rewriting of the story of Dick Whittington and His Cat and the rags to riches tale. From London town, to Rio, and back again, Dick (played by Tim Frater) and friends seek their fortune, while saving London from the clutches of the dastardly mayor King Rat. Along for the ride is Dick’s mother, Sarah the Cook; his feline companion, Tallulah the Cat; and best pal Jack. On the way, they meet the beautiful Alice and her mother Florrie Fitzwarren, completing the group.
A traditional pantomime in every sense, the show had nearly everything you look for in your yearly Christmas outing. From the ‘oh no you didn’t-s’ to the ‘she’s behind you!’ to being addressed as ‘boys and girls’, everything was as it should be. But, of course, no pantomime is complete without its dame. John Elkington, a regular panto performer for the Nottingham Playhouse, is fabulous as Sarah the Cook, localising the performance with a casual ‘Ey up me duck!’ to open the show. His occasional improvisation, comfortable banter with the audience, and the odd cheeky innuendo kept the audience rolling with laughter throughout, children and adults alike. Elkington’s Sarah also formed a great comic due with the other comic dame character played by Anthony Hoggard; the witty exchange of quips between the two paired with their well-timed slapstick humour made for fun watching. Other standouts include Jasmine White as Tallulah the Cat, with her graceful dance moves and ridiculously flexible limbs, and the classically evil King Rat played by Kevin McGowan. Rebecca Little also performs well as the forgetful Fairy Bowbells popping in and out of the production trying to remember which pantomime protagonist she needs to be saving.
While the original folklore of Dick Whittington is centuries old, this production has been kept extremely up to date. References only weeks old are dropped into the show including comments about this year’s I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here and, more bizarrely, the song from the Muppets Warburtons crumpet advert. Other popular renditions including ‘I Got Bills’ and ‘Uptown Funk’ were met with great enthusiasm, though certainly the most popular number was ‘Hot Hot Hot’, of which many many encores were encouraged by the audience. Although the singing itself was rather questionable at times, the actors threw themselves into every number with tremendous energy, which is ultimately what makes a pantomime great.
As would be expected, glitter adorned nearly every part of this production, from the sets to the amazing costumes. The various costumes of the dames were particularly bedazzled and comically creative; recognition must go the Helen Tye for their creation. Likewise to the set designer, Tim Meacock. Not only did the set provide the primary coloured, glittery backdrop that we all know and love, it was essential in much of the childish slapstick comedy that brought the most laughs.
The Nottingham Playhouse’s pantomime this year overall, has a comforting atmosphere of festive community. Through the returning performers and the knowing references to having ‘the same old jokes every year’, there is a sense that a visit to the Nottingham Playhouse’s panto is a tradition, and is one that I would be quite happy to pick up myself. While I would criticise the disappointing lack of sweets thrown into the audience (seriously why?), aside from this, Dick Whittington has everything you would wish for in a pantomime. So should you go and see it I hear you ask? Why, oh yes you should!
‘Dick Whittington’ is on at Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 16th January. For more info, click here