Arts Reviews

“A Night That Gives You A Real Laugh” – Theatre Review: Dick Whittington @ Nottingham Playhouse

Hannah Walton-Hughes

Dick Whittington is this year’s Nottingham Playhouse pantomime. A combination of laughs, bad jokes, and fun greets audiences as they flock into the theatre for some Christmas joviality. The pantomime opened on 25th November, and will run until the 14th January 2023. Impact’s Hannah Walton-Hughes attended press night on 28th November, and reviews.

I must admit that, having got rather comfortable with the pantomime performed at my local theatre in York, I am always slightly skeptical about trying out a new pantomime. However, the Nottingham Playhouse did not let me down; this was a performance that had me roaring with laughter, and in awe of its quick-witted charm.

Dick Whittington follows the story of a young man who arrives in London with only a cat for company, and quickly becomes involved with local Alice, and her father, as they try to keep their business afloat, whilst also trying to avoid the villainous King Rat and his cronies!

As is typical with pantomimes, the show begins with a surprise. The Dame’s voice comes on suddenly via the overcom, reminding us all to switch off our phones and enjoy the show. Over the course of the first twenty minutes, we are introduced to a whole manner of eccentric characters, from Silly Billy, to Alice Fitzwarren, Fairy Bowbells, and of course the villain, King Rat.

In terms of actors, two really stood out for me: John Elkington as the Dame (Sarah the Cook), and Rosanna Bates’ portrayal of Alice Fitzwarren, this pantomime’s ‘damsel’, who proves herself to be anything but! Elkington brings such warmth, sparkle and dry humour to the character of the Dame; he perfectly maintains his character, whilst also breaking the fourth wall when appropriate. The character of Alice is simply pure and lovely to watch; she proves to be a highly likeable and strong-willed woman, who knows her own mind, and does not need a man to save her.

Rosanna Bates and Lisa Ambalavanar[‘s] voices are so powerful that shivers went down my spine

The only two actors of whom I was not so keen were Christopher Chandler as the villain, and Natalie Winsor as the Fairy. For me, they just lack the authenticity and believability necessary to bring such hyperbolic characters to life. Both seem to play to the audience a little too much (if there is such a thing in pantomime). There is nothing fundamentally wrong with their performances, but, compared to the rest of the talent on the stage, their characters fell a little flat for me.

I want to reference the extremely high standard of singing in this performance. Honestly, the cast could have walked straight out of a musical in the West End, and I wouldn’t have been surprised. Particular commendation must go to Rosanna Bates and Lisa Ambalavanar (Dick Whittington); their voices are so powerful that shivers went down my spine, particularly during Dick and Alice’s duet in the second act.

My personal favourite was her dress with an octopus at the top

Following on from this, I was very impressed with the range of songs that fit into this pantomime. Compared to others I have seen, there are a great deal more, including songs by a wide range of artists, across various decades. Highlights for me were the classic Morecambe and Wise song Bring Me Sunshine and Wings by Little Mix. Plus, I want to mention the fantastic live band that provide all of these songs, and the many sound effects heard throughout the performance. Musicians are too often a forgotten part of a production, but the Dame pointed them all out individually, which I thought was well-deserved; without them, the production would not be half of what it is.

Whoever designed the costumes for this production deserves an award. The Dame’s outfits in particular had the audience ‘oooing’ and ‘ahhing’, every time she walked on. My personal favourite was her dress with an octopus at the top, which then proceeds to cover her entire face when she sits down! Bright and Christmas-y colours dominate the majority of the costumes. I must admit, I did find the almost excessive use of white fur a little ridiculous; some of the characters consistently look as though they have just walked out of Santa’s grotto.

The cast encouraged us to party like it was “Downing Street, 2020”

Audience participation is always a massive part of any pantomime, and this was no exception. Silly Billy got us all to reply to him with “Ay Up Billy” whenever he greeted us, various members of the audience were pointed at and mocked (!), and it was particularly heart-warming to see the small children who were welcomed onto the stage at the end of the performance, to help with the final song.

My favourite aspect of this entire pantomime was the littering of quick-witted innuendos (which, safe to say, the small children in the audience didn’t understand!), and societal references. Taking note of the location of Nottingham is paramount to this production; the Dame frequently refers to places such as Beeston and Derby City Centre, along with Nottingham’s bus service!

Political jokes always entertain me; the cast encouraged us to party like it was “Downing Street, 2020”, and commented that the truth always has a way of coming out: “just ask Boris.” Despite some slightly forced jokes from the character of Silly Billy, and one of the scenes involving a rat invasion dragging on slightly, this is an absolutely hilarious show that had us all in fits.

I would, hands down, see this company’s pantomime again. It was much better than I was expecting, and the actors, both young and old, deserve huge praise for bringing this crazy story alive! I encourage everyone to see it whilst it is on; it will prove to be a night that gives you a real laugh, and allows you to escape from the all-too-serious world that we currently live in.


Hannah Walton-Hughes

Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.

In-article images courtesy of Nottingham Playhouse. No changes were made to these images.

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