Pros: Energetic performances, a fantastic colourful set, the classic tale is presented with plenty of local flavour.
Cons: I found the music uncofortably loud in places, though perhaps that was just me. Certainly, the volume of the music occasionally made it difficult to hear the lyrics.
I wasn’t familiar with the story of Dick Whittington prior to attending the Theatre Royal’s current pantomime. I gather the basics are that Dick Whittington, a poor orphan, travels to London to seek his fortune. He finds employment as a scullery boy in the home of the merchant Mr Fitzwilliam and acquires a loyal cat. Dick’s good nature and the help of his trusty feline ultimately lead to his election as mayor of London. The Stratford version broadly follows this trajectory, though Dick also travels to the moon in search of exotic cheese.
Yes, this is a delightfully off-the wall production. The classic tale has been brought bang up to date and the action transplanted to the town of ‘Lowdown’, a place not dissimilar from Stratford. The show has a strong local community feel and an inclusive cast – this is panto with a South East London twist!
The performances are uniformly energetic and wacky. Ashley Gerlach is delightfully earnest and cheerful as Dick Whittington as our plucky street hero. Tony Jayawardena gets the most laughs of the evening as Dick’s companion, a big furry ginger cat. Deaf actress Caroline Parker, playing the role of Fairy Bow Bell, has an endearing stage presence. She got the evening off to a terrific start when she led us all in a sing-along / sign-along. Michael Vertenshaw, playing the villain Rat King, is both sinister and smutty. And when Dick and co eventually found themselves in a surreal lunar landscape, Miranda Menzies gave my favourite performance of the evening as the bizarre Alien Queen.
The set and costumes, designed by Jenny Tiramani and Harriet Barsby, are brilliantly glittery and colourful. Oh and there’s even a rocket launch, which caused the children around me to cheer.
The risque jokes come as quickly and frequently as you would hope. Unsurprisingly, there were a lot of puns on the name ‘Dick’ (bit of a gift to today’s pantomime playwright). Heavens, I hope the smutty humour sailed over the heads of the tykes in the audience.
If I have any complaint about this production it’s that I occasionally found the music uncomfortably loud, and that it was sometimes difficult to hear the lyrics over the instrumentation. But that’s a minor quibble. From what I could see, the children and adults in the audience were both completely enthralled by this vibrant production. Don’t miss Dick Whittington for a unique panto experience this Christmas season.
Authors: Trish Cooke and Robert Hyman
Director: Kerry Michael
Box Office: 020 8534 0310
Booking Link: stratfordeast.com
Booking Until: 11th January 2014