Over this festive period Stratford PlayHouse has been home to, ‘Dick Whittington’; their latest annual professional pantomime. The story of ‘Dick Whittington’ is derived from English folklore and pays homage to the real-life Richard Whittington; the tale is believed to be exaggerated compared to actual events but over the years has swiftly become a favourite of the ‘rags-to-riches’ genre.
Stemming right back to the Victorian era, ‘Dick Whittington’ has been a popular choice of pantomime during the festive season, creating the hard task for any production company to make theirs stand out from the masses; creatively written by Ben Crocker and expertly directed by Andrew Anderson, Stratford PlayHouse and the entire cast and crew did just that.
Greeted with a relatively simple set, the show began with ‘The Wandering Minstrels’ playing an array of traditional and true-to-era folklore music using a variety of authentic instruments; instruments which were used continuously throughout the show to set the scene and bring the songs to life.
The show itself came with a diverse cast of characters, vividly executed by every actor. Whilst impossible to list everyone, some were certainly worthy of note: ‘Queen Rat’, undertaken by Jane Lees, excelled in her role as the villain of the piece, contrasted with the talents of Georgie Wood who played a glistening ‘Fairy Bowbells’, exuding a ‘sweet and innocent’ demeanour that enthralled the audience throughout.
Katie Bottoms’ ‘Dick Whittington’, Jessica Bates’ ‘Alice Fitzwarren’, David Monteith’s ‘Horatio Fitzwarren’, and Alex Kapila’s ‘Empress of Morocco’ all presented confidently across the show, with good diction and projection within a vast auditorium.
‘Tommy the Cat’ was expertly bought to life by Emily, without even needing to say a word (other than the occasional ‘Meow’!), her body language and mannerisms alone gave excellent performance.
The source(s) of comedy abundantly came from Chris Ponka’s Dame as ‘Sarah the Cook’ and Danny Lee Grew’s ‘Idle Jack’; their relationship on stage was in high energetic form and showed comedic entertainment at its best. Special mention though, must go to the latter, Grew’s natural, witty performance engaged the audience every time he adorned the stage and his ‘I Feel Good’ routine which was scattered across the show was a firm favourite of the audience, especially the younger generation!
Every song was adeptly chosen and aided in the storytelling, under the musical direction of Marc Rowson and Vee Sweeney, the cast excelled in their deliveries; the highest accolade of which must go to Katie Bottoms and Jessica Bates, their voices both individually and when harmonising together were sensational.
A show, even one with notable onstage talent such as this, is nothing without its technical counterparts; stage-management and technical expertise came from Chris Hawkins and Josh Stephens, both of whom ably led all areas. Scene changes were smooth and well done, this was helped by the simplicity of the well-thought-out constructed set; painted flats and curtains which were able to be changed instantaneously, along with small, yet cleverly chosen props to bring the scenes alive. The most memorable being the shipwreck scene with its authentic Moroccan décor of lanterns, coloured fairy lights, authentic dress and scenery, and the incredible winter-wonderland wedding scene with its beautiful starlit backdrop, snow covered Christmas trees, and a wedding arch, all of which were dusted in falling snow.
The technical highlight came in the form of an underwater lightshow. A complete auditorium black out with UV-lit sea creatures dancing and singing along to the ‘sea shanty medley’, which included many well-known numbers, was absolutely mesmerising and a true spectacle to behold!
This production came with everything one would want and expect from a pantomime: puns, memorable songs, witty one-liners, romance, an abundance of humour and audience participation galore. The show cleverly managed to work for all ages, with both adult and child humour coupled with the perfect balance of traditional ‘boo-hiss’ silliness and witty, topical references; it was certainly a show for all to enjoy!
You have one last chance to see this incredible production, what better way to see out the year? Get your tickets now by following the link below to the final matinee performance on 31st December 2019.
Review by Kirsty Wright, Pulse Productions.