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Dick Whittington

by on 10 December 2018

Paved with Gold

Dick Whittington

by Daniel Wain, directed by Bill Compton 

Teddington Theatre Club at Hampton Hill Theatre until 15th December 2018

A review by Matthew Grierson

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a panto in possession of a fortune must be in want of a decent audience.

I say this because TTC’s production of Dick Whittington is in many respects as golden as Dick hopes London to be, but that, until the interval, we the audience are a lukewarm bunch, despite the cast’s best efforts. Poor old Idle Jack (an endearing performance by Lara Parker), for instance, can’t get any response from audience member Darren and has to pick on birthday boy Nick instead. And for heaven’s sake, we miss a sitter when the cast patiently cue up a gag about where their careers are and leave us a beat to call out ‘They’re behind you!’ No dice.

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All the same, the show delivers everything you’d expect with aplomb – fun performances, big musical numbers, a clever, versatile set and excellent costumes. The jokes come hot on the heels of one another, so that if one is not to your taste – there is plenty of single entendre – then there will be a dumb pun, a sight gag or something political along shortly after. What more could we ask for?

 

Another truth universally acknowledged is that an audience in possession of children must be in want of a drink sooner or later, and it is certainly the case that after the interval there seems to be more engagement, and the cast can reap the reward for the work they have put in during the first half. Who knows, maybe they’ve been having a tipple as well: the normally urbane Alderman Fitzwarren (Jim Trimmer) certainly seems to drop an otherwise inexplicable follicle not long after he’s back onstage. Well, I strained to make out any pun at least.

To their credit, the performers remain straight-faced through plenty of such ribaldry, enabling them to tell some downright filthy gags in a room half-full of pre-teens as though butter wouldn’t melt. The moment Rebecca Dowbiggin, who is brilliantly disingenuous throughout as the titular Dick, delivers the punchline to meeting Tommy the Cat, sets the tone for the rest of the show (I’ll leave you to work it out, it’s not hard … so to speak). The master of these innuendos, in the person of Marc Batten, is Sarah the Cook. So I suppose that should that be the mistress of innuendo? A mistress is, as she tells us, what comes between a mister and a mattress … Perhaps all this barefaced smut explains the initially nervy reaction from the stalls.

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In a more family-friendly vein, there is a string of intertextual – panpantomimical? – jokes that find characters forgetting which show they’re in. When we join Fairy BowBells (a chirpy Danielle Thompson) at the top of the show, she thinks she has a season off panto duty, only to get a call on her mobile to come to Dick’s assistance. As if our hero doesn’t have enough on his plate with making his fortune, wooing Alice and defeating King Rat, he’s also worried about the reviewers being in tonight. And the script doesn’t miss an opportunity to have a dig at rival groups and productions, or even the local rail franchise: Dave Dadswell, who makes great sport out of his multiple parts, has a lovely turn as Dandini looking for Cinders, having been delayed by South West Trains.

The topicality of poor transport is a motif at its most blatant in the naming of Alderman Fitzwarren’s ship the Brexitannia, which is boarded by way of an appropriately wobbly entrance and then not much later holed below the waterline. Far be it from me to spoil a delightful surprise, but our heroes are saved from a watery grave by an apposite, and appositely named, local celebrity appearing by video. I won’t say who this might be, but if you want a hint check your programme.

The whole sequence makes good use of the curtain as a semi-transparent screen for projection, bubbles playing up its surface with the cast stranded behind it doing the ‘Baby Shark’ challenge (yes, I had to look it up too). It’s been used similarly effectively to separate Dick from his true love Alice (steadfast Kelly-Marie Toothily) earlier in the show as they sing a tender ballad on either side. Nice work Patrick Troughton, who I daresay is fed up of being in the shadows of his Time Lord namesake, and Gary Stevenson on lights.

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The shipwreck throws the crew – that is to say, the cast – ashore in Morocco, where they encounter the Sultana of Morocco. Mia Skytte Jensen makes the most of her long-delayed entrance to sing ‘Whatever Happened to my Part?’ in mock-diva mode. In a show packed with accomplished musical numbers it’s a particular highlight, and gives the hard-working chorus the opportunity to show their acting chops in an amusingly choreographed sulk. Fair play to them, they’ve already executed a number of fine routines – shout-out to choreographer Emma Knight – including a hornpipe, served to swell the rodent population and endured the jibes of the main characters.

Arriving in North Africa, the production avoids some awkward Orientalism by having the Sultana speak in the Queen’s English and her father – the redoubtable Mr Dadswell again – affect a Geordie accent. But seriously, guys, I’d have thought twice about the Native American headdress in the first act; just because the Village People used it in the 70s doesn’t make it all right. More perplexing, though for different reasons, is the decision for Sarah to get double drag on by dressing as Freddie Mercury for this number. Sure they’re all supposed to be in disguise, but I couldn’t work out was going on there – especially in a medley of ‘In the Navy’, ‘YMCA’ and ‘Go West’ – unless it’s an attempt to cash in on the recent Queen movie.

But back to the plot: it is also on their Mediterranean jaunt that our heroes find their fortune and finally trounce King Rat, who has troubled them throughout with his boo-hiss hair and Shakespearean pretensions … signalling the further truth that a writer in possession of a deadline will be in want of a handy quotation now and again (don’t worry, Daniel Wain, we all do it). As the recurrent rodent, Edz Barrett gnaws as much of the scenery as he does Fitzwarren’s stores and manages to send the kids scurrying as a result. The younger audience can take heart, however, from Asha Gill’s cutely wordless turn as Tommy the Cat, who is repeatedly on hand – or rather, on paw – to see off the villain and his entourage.

By now it’s time for the traditional singalong, and as Dadswell and Parker lead us through a rousing rendition of ‘Flash, Bang, Wallop!’, it’s clear just how much the audience has warmed up, given that some of us start singing ahead of the lyrics. Then it’s back to London, which as the opening number has told us is England, is home – a sentiment perhaps designed to ensure a bit of political balance to the piece. Here we are treated to the curtain call-cum-triple wedding of Jack and the Sultana, the Alderman and Sarah, and Dick and Alice. Three cheers indeed.

Was Dick worried that the reviewers were in tonight? I don’t think he needed to be.

Matthew Grierson
December 2018

Photography by Jojo Leppink, Handwritten Photography 

From → Pantomime, Reviews

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