Muddy reviews: Bracknell’s Dick Whittington
Rat infestation? Call in Rentokil, Dick! Oh too late. Here's my hot-off-the-panto press verdict on Bracknell's Dick Whittington and His Cat.
Your Muddy panto correspondent, reporting for duty. This is my third Christmas show and my second Dick – Dick Whittington and His Cat at South Hill Park Bracknell, you smutty lot. But oh what a night it was.
If you don’t know the story (er, where have you been?). Quick summary: it’s about a country boy, Richard Whittington (Michael Ayiotis) who heads to London to seek his fortune (oh, we’ve all done it). It’s a bit like The X Factor, but rather than a record deal and Simon Cowell as your BFF, Dick defeats King Rat, becomes Lord Mayor of London and gets his girl.
Writer Joyce Branagh, a former Reading girl, has written a new, original script for South Hill Park and added an untraditional twist. Accused of having his hand in the till at Fitzwaren’s shop, Dick is banished from London and heads back to Bracknell (obvs) where he hears the bells of Bow calling him back to the Big Smoke. In pursuit of his dreams and his girl, Dick ends up at the North Pole to save Christmas from the evil, but handsome King Rat (Matthew Houston). Having already ruined London, ratty is hellbent on spoiling everyone’s festive fun. Booooo.
Despite the storytelling diversion, this is pure panto gold – high energy singing, dancing, panto patter and audience participation. Oh, Stuart in row A, someone always catches the dame’s eye and Sally South Hill (the insatiable Brad Clapson) picked a corker – very easy on the eye. The fact he caught the eye of Alderman Fitzwaren (John Conway), Dick Whittington and many of the characters was hilarious.
Dick’s love interest is played by the talented Faye Ellen. She was last year’s kick ass Belle in Beauty & the Beast and returns as the adventurous Alice Fitzwaren who falls for our hero. Her voice is superb throughout with Fairy Bowbell (Shani Cantor) flexing her vocal talents during a Kate Bush style number Turn Again.
Highlights? Traditionally the first act can plod along, but not here. The characters burst on stage and the show rollicks along from beginning to end. The opening dance routine to Lambeth Walk and Maybe It’s Because I’m A Londoner was mind-blowingly good. The dancing would have been enough, but to playing the spoons as well? I doff my hat to them all.
Older members of the audience we’re rolling around laughing at The Two Ronnies Four Candles sketch, brilliantly executed by Sally (Clapson) and Tabby the Cat (Rebecca Ayres) and a new spin on the 12 Days Of Christmas went down a storm with all ages – particularly the kids who loved the super-soaking at ‘5 water pistols’.
Staging, as always, was spectacular. South Hill Park does not have the facility to use cloth sets, so they get creative … really creative. The 3D design are exquisite and this year’s was no exception. Staged as story book, as each page was turned, a new is revealed from the streets of London to Father Christmas’s Toy Factory. Designer Victoria Spearing and her team are phenomenal and it’s their ambition that make this show so unique.
Bracknell’s Dick Whittington is a superb panto – one the best I’ve seen. If I’m nit picking, the dance sequence in the middle felt a bit clunky in places – the Macarena in the North Pole was a bit of stretch. As I say, I’m being picky.
All if forgiven when they wheel out saucy Santa who flirts outrageously with Sally South Hill “You’re a bit off a mouthful’ and we’re back to the kind of humour of love. But there, I’m horrifically lacking in class. Straight on to the naughty list for me. If you haven’t already booked your panto, this one’s a banker.
Dick Whittington And His Cat is on at South Hill Park Bracknell until Sat 5 Jan 2019.