Writer and Director: Jamie Smith
Reviewer: Bill Avenell
These may be somewhat disturbing and unsettling times in world affairs but it is reassuring to know that ‘some things don’t change’, and if the phrase applies anywhere then it certainly applies to this year’s Christmas offering of Dick Whittington at the Yvonne Arnaud.
Once again the Guildford theatre applies a thoroughly traditional approach to its festive entertainment. No established stars from TV; refreshingly few references to the small screen or social media; no blockbuster performances from well-known singing acts; no hi-tech gimmicks. Just loyalty to the formula, and indeed to the cast, that makes this show a joy once again this year.
Perhaps it can be accused of playing safe but what is wrong with that when the up-side is a chemistry among the major players, and also between them and an audience that knows exactly what it is going to get, honed over years of experience. The trio of Kit Hesketh-Harvey, better than ever this year as evil King Rat; Peter Gordon as Sarah the Cook, coarse and resplendent in Jamie Attle’s dame costumes; Jamie Brook, irrepressibly effervescent and holding the whole show together as Idle Jack, are joined this season by the splendidly feline-like Georgie Leatherland as Tommy the Cat.
It is a vibrant evening. Before the off, the Scouts and the Brownies are in a boisterous mood and it is to the cast’s credit that they harness the energy but are always in control of it. Brook, in particular, is a past master at this and the way that he and Hesketh-Harvey work the front-row is an art form in itself.
It is not perfect. There are issues with the balance of sound and some of the singing is hard to hear. Moreover, the Guildford tradition of employing an ageing actress as the requisite fairy sadly backfires as Judy Cornwell playing Fairy Bowbells merely succeeds in slowing the whole thing down rather painfully.
But it all speeds up again with the established sketches (gorillas not ghosts this year) and the essential slapstick. As well as orchestrating this and keeping the whole thing boiling, director Jamie Smith employs Katie Beard’s choreography (including a splendid rat dance by the Ensemble), and Imagine Theatre’s bright set, to really good effect.
So if you are looking for a ‘new and creative Christmas entertainment experience’ don’t go to Guildford but if you want to wrap yourself in the comfort blanket that is Yvonne Arnaud’s ‘tried and tested’ then get down to the banks of the Wey for this season’s performance.
Runs until Sunday 7th January | Image: Bryan Allman