North East & YorkshirePantomimeReview

Dick Whittington – Harrogate Theatre

Reviewer: Daniel Wood

Writers: Phil Lowe and David Bown

Director: Marcus Romer

As panto season begins, this reviewer packed his spotted nap-sack, tied it to a stick and set off for Harrogate Theatre with his wife and two boys.

Dick Whittington follows young Dick as he travels to London with his feline sidekick. Along the way they meet the dastardly King Rat and his legion of rodents, and try to solve the mystery of stolen cash and the location of a magic sword. As pantomimes go, it’s one of the more confusing and convoluted stories but we’re frequently reminded of the key plot points.

Tim Stedman returns as the comic male, this time playing Idle Jack. Part Norman Wisdom, part Mr Tumble, Stedman’s daft charm has been delighting audiences for twenty-three years. Unlike other panto stalwarts, he doesn’t dominate the show and allows his co-stars to shine. Effortlessly likeable, he is a master of physical comedy and delivers gags thick and fast. His custard pie antics in The Twelve Days of Christmas are an absolute treat, in an age where many shows have dropped slosh scenes altogether.

Dick (Naail Ishaq) and love interest Alice (Faye Weerasinghe) have strong vocals, and a believable chemistry together. Ishaq hams up the role with every thigh slap and grin. The character of Mr Fitzwarren is missing here, which should give Alice a larger role but oddly doesn’t. Weerasinghe does her best with a largely one-dimensional role that doesn’t break the panto mould.

A meow-vellous performance from Anna Campkin as Tammy the Cat. Gone are the days of the black-and-white fur suit; here we see an inventive costume and wig cleverly shaped into cat ears. Jazz paws aplenty, outbursts of musical numbers and a TikTok song sheet all make for one cool cat. Tammy was an unexpected hit for your reviewer’s seven-year-old in particular.

They say there’s nothing like a dame, and newcomer Harry Wyatt joins the cast as Sarah the Cook. Perhaps more drag than dame, Wyatt breathes new life into the role with a youthful energy and more frocks than you can shake a (flashing) wand at. A solid vocalist with some funny asides, but he could benefit from more stage time to really make his mark.

Shannon Rewcroft mixes up the Fairy Godmother formula as Fairy Bow-Bells. In a role that can often become patronising, she turns this bit-part into a feature character and shows real warmth and likeability. Her duet of These Boots are Made for Walking with the baddie is sensational. Later, Rewcroft also plays eco-conscious mermaid Millie Ocean. She makes both roles her own, and clearly enjoys the variety.

Like a gruff Rik Mayall, Michael Lambourne could be one of the best panto villains one has ever seen. Treading a tricky line, he is playfully menacing with the crowd without ever reducing young audience members to tears. Rat out of Hell is a real highlight, and Lambourne relishes every boo and hiss. When things go wrong, his exasperation only adds to the fun.

Musically, Dick Whittington is diverse and features everything from Meatloaf, Elton John, The Clash and Celine Dion to a Bond theme and a beautiful slow take on I’ll Be There for You from Friends. Expect showtunes too, and modern hits from Billie Eilish and TikTok favourites. A live band ensures a rich sound, led by Musical Director Nick Lacey. However, the music sometimes overpowers the vocals, especially in the opening London montage where lyrics are almost incomprehensible.

A UV puppet sequence in Act Two is slick and well choreographed, and we meet the Giant Scary Tap-Dancing Jellyfish again later in the inevitable ghost scene. Yes, the formulaic staples are all here but often with new twists. Projection also features heavily, from scampering rats and even rolling credits at the end.

Director Marcus Romer helps keep the action pacey, and there’s rarely a dull moment. Even the love songs are sensibly succinct. Writers David Bown and Phil Lowe ensure a slick script and plenty of local references. Some of these went over this York reviewer’s head, but the local crowd lapped them up.

Harrogate Theatre doesn’t rely on celebrity appearances and gimmicks, instead opting for good old-fashioned family fun with plenty of festive magic and sparkle. Unusually for panto, there’s no smut here… not one double-entendre or obvious Dick joke. Sumptuous sets, dazzling costumes and a strong ensemble performance ensure a good time for all. It’s a tried and tested formula that keeps audiences coming back for more.

Runs until 14th January 2024.

The Reviews Hub Score

Practically purr-fect family fun

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The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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