Writer: Eric Potts
Director: Chris Nelson
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
Opening with a video that extols the virtue of 300 years of pantomime tradition, referencing producer First Family Entertainment’s desire to bring big Hollywood names to enliven the genre, is a bold move in a venue whose headline stars are both best known from The X Factor.
Thankfully, while 2013 winner Sam Bailey has not yet got much acting experience under her belt (although next year will see the former prison officer take on the rôle of Mama Morton in Chicago) she has enough charm and delivery to be able to take on the rôle of Fairy Bowbells with aplomb. Her voice is, of course, her best asset, and the structure of Eric Potts’ script changes accordingly, giving her plenty of opportunity to belt out a variety of standards. Her rendition of Whitney Houston’s One Moment in Time rightly brings the house down at the end of Act One, as long as one ignores what a fairy is doing giving Dick a dream sequence while singing I Will Be Free.
Bailey’s character frequently engages in verbal battle with Queen Rat (fellow X Factor alumna Melanie Masson, a 2012 finalist). Masson gets the weaker songs and weaker dialogue, but at least holds her own vocally, and the pair’s duet of Enough is Enough works well.
With the starring names in supporting rôles, the central relationship of Dick and Alice Fitzwarren is handed over to two actors, Kristopher Milnes and Rachael Louise Miller, who are able to imbue the relationship with as much gravitas and romance as is possible within the loosely plotted slapstick of panto. Their more or less straight rôles are well balanced by the comedy turns: Jason Sutton’s competently smutty Sarah the Cook, whose humour is even more saucy than a panto whose hero’s name is rife with possibility, and Andy Collins’ Jack. Collins, in particular, is on top form here: in collaboration with director Chris Nelson (who also plays Alderman Fitzwarren) he manages to turn the tired old panto trope of The 12 Days of Christmas into an anticipated event that, after an act and a half of build-up, pays off well.
Indeed, the traditional panto setup is given brief flourishes of novelty throughout. The climactic showdown between Dick and Queen Rat comes in the form of a lip-sync battle, which enables some cultural references for the youngsters to get and for the adults to not understand (a useful balance to the ribaldry that, hopefully, goes over the children’s heads). It’s not every day you get to see a cat dress up as Sia. Thank goodness.
Able support is provided throughout by a young adult ensemble, trained by 2011’s Dick Whittington star Jonathan Wilkes, who impress with their choreography and professionalism. They help round out a panto that shows just what good mainstream pantomime can, and should, aspire to.
Runs until 3 January 2016 | Image: Contributed