Dick Whittington - The Panto!

An Oxford Playhouse Production, directed by ex Blue Peter presenter Peter Duncan. £8.50 - £19.50
Oxford Playhouse, Fri 1st Dec - Sun 14th Jan 2007.

December 12, 2006
Little did Richard Whittington, a Gloucestershire born 'mercer' of 1350s, know that his success in life trading luxury silks, money-lending to Royalty and achieving three appointments as Mayor of London would inspire a well-loved pantomime. His life history is now embellished to provide the 'rags to riches' tale, first performed in Covent Garden in 1814. Phil Willmott's version takes the dashing hero Dick (Raj Ghatak) from London Docks to the Guildhall via Neptune's underwater kingdom and a Moroccan beach where Dick and his motley crew of shipmates are shipwrecked. In an exotic harem tent near the Moroccan beach Dick finds his sweetheart Alice, about to be married to a Sultan. In order to rescue kind-hearted Alice (Charlotte Warren) Dick has to find a way to rid the Sultan of a plague of pesky rats. Tap dancing to the tune of one of the show's great production numbers, 'Ratty Feet', works wonders and the children of the company fill the stage as fleeing rats. Back in the big smoke Gerry Zuccarello's crisp choreography is more West End than East End as the show stopping routine to 'Don't Stop me Now', shows that the villain Atticus Ratticus (boo!) is planning to run for Mayor.

The Pantomime is full of spectacle and comedy. Look out for Korky Paul's illustration filling the screen during the interval, puppets popping up from the orchestra pit, an eel flying around the stage and an enormous sausage exploding accompanied by a wonderful double entendre. Neptune's underwater kingdom is full of magic with a beautiful floating sea urchin and an illuminated display of fish swimming past. After a catch of sweet treats, there is plenty of opportunity for audience participation as the coolest of all theatre cats, 'Yo Tommy!' (Joe Allen) gets everyone singing 'Twelve days of Christmas' with some new lyrics. Dame Sarah the Cook (Simon Green) excels at raising the roof with hilarious asides and injects many local references, comparing Oxford United to a stringy bra, 'no cups and little support!' Ashley Bale's traditional lighting design matches the style of the production well. In Fairyland glittering Fairy Port Meadow enters stage right and is lit in the prettiest of pinks and evil King Ratticus (hiss!) is lit, stage left, in hideous green in the style of Commedia dell'arte.

The cast crackles with famous faces. Spot TV's musicality star Donna Hazelton as Fairy Port Meadow, Darren Reeves (aka Benny in Bjorn Again) conducts the orchestra as musical director and David Cardy familiar to many as Chris from Birds of a Feather plays the Sultan. Of course Peter Duncan deserves the biggest Blue Peter Badge of all for the key role of Director. The generosity of the real Richard Whittington is legendary, so perhaps he should not be surprised to find that he is remembered so warmly today. In fact in this story the generosity of this mixed bag of pantomime characters towards each other enables everyone to find a happy ending. Next time you are up on Highgate Hill listen out for the peel of Bow Bells and turn again to see the statue of Whittington's black cat, and shout 'Yo Tommy!'
At Christmas 2006, when I was 12, I thought I had perhaps reached an age where I should stop going to the pantomime. My mum talked me into going to see Dick Whittington because we go every year all the family, and I'm glad she did.

This pantomime is so enjoyable and laughable it's unbelievable! It has funny parts and serious parts in it so you can understand. Even my mum was laughing at it. The Pantomime is full of comedy. The cast is full of bright cheerful faces (when they need to be). His cat was a woman dressed up and it must have been so hard for her not to shout at the people sometimes because she doesn't talk.

When the interval was on some of the cast read out peoples names - who's having a birthday or an anniversary, they sing happy birthday then throw crisps and sweets to the audience. I think this was a very good idea whoever thought of it.

I have seen quite a lot of pantomimes here and I think this is one of the best ones. Out of 5 I would give it a 4 because it was good and funny but some of the jokes were for adults and I didn't understand them. Have you ever seen Dick Whittington in pantomime? If you haven't I suggest you do!
This Christmas Oxford Playhouse have chosen to entertain the hordes with ‘Dick Whittington’ and this year’s panto won’t disappoint with lots of energy and music on its side.

The production has a distinctly local flavour - our hero, Dick, hails from Oxford and the whole story is helped along by Fairy Port Meadow. ‘Dick Whittington’ has a wonderful, inventive set - and it’s used well with action taking place all around and outside the stage itself. Everything looked bright and colourful and there was a really stunning underwater scene.

The music was also quite a hit too, with the production going for classic singalongs such as Queen’s ‘Don’t stop me now’ and a healthy dose of recent hits from Lilly Allen and the Scissor Sisters. They all seemed to hit the spot and everyone sang along with gusto.

There was lots of audience participation, plenty of singing, having things thrown at you and even the odd spot of dancing. The cast were energetic and seemed to be enjoying themselves, despite the odd fluffed line.

The dame - Sarah - deserves particular mention for a great combination of innuendo for the parents and plain daftness for the kids. Sarah also bore an uncanny resemblance to Kim Cattrall of Sex and the City fame, but this may have been a side effect of the mulled wine. Dick and Alice make an appealing pair and the villain - Atticus Ratticus - inspired some first class booing. Everyone under the age of 12 seemed to enjoy Tommy the Ali G cat, Dick‘s loyal companion.

The show was lively and kept going at a good pace until very near the end, when things did start to slow down. However a big singalong finale made up for the action dragging a little beforehand.

The only downsides were too many little costume problems - the cast kept getting entangled in the rather intricate set, which made the performance look a little under-rehearsed. Also some of the cast’s lines were occasionally lost in the music.

These are pretty minor complaints - the production certainly delighted all the children in the audience, amongst whom there was a remarkably low fidget-factor. Lots of people stood up to dance at the final song and the production pleased both the grown- ups and children alike.

Overall Dick Whittington did everything a panto should: it entertained the children whilst amusing their parents, and the whole production had lots of ideas, energy and sparkle. A great choice for a family outing this Christmas.
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