Writers: Phil Lowe/David Bown
Director: Phil Lowe
Musical Director: Nick Lacey
Choreographer: David Kar Hing Lee
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Pantomime traditionally plays tricks with the gender of the characters, but Harrogate’s gleeful version of Dick Whittington goes further than most. A mixture of tradition and innovation gives us, in addition to the customary Dame, a splendidly old-style Principal Boy together with a Queen Rat and a male Fairy Bow Bells, plus Alice Barrott going all feline with a winsome Tommy the Cat – and it all makes as much sense as it needs to in a wonderfully entertaining show.
Phil Lowe has been directing Harrogate pantomimes for 10 years and, for most of that time, has been writing them together with David Bown. This is a slightly streamlined Dick Whittington, with Alderman Fitzwarren despatched before the start and the cast kept down to six, plus “the cat who can’t talk”, as we are frequently reminded to comic effect. The script keeps the plot moving, apart from the odd singalong or water fight, maintains the balance perfectly between good jokes and awful ones and integrates the audience participation so well that it never feels like an add-on.
Tim Stedman, surprisingly youthful for a man who has played the fool in Harrogate pantos for 17 years, is suitably daft and remarkably energetic as Idle Jack, a master of the art of audience involvement, switching from blank incomprehension to knowing looks. Equally inventive and at home in the world of nonsense, is Howard Chadwick whose Sarah the Cook, in a ginger fright wig and incredible costumes, comes from the grotesque, aggressive-with-a-heart-of-gold school of pantomime dames.
Christopher Chilton, a chirpy Cockney coster of a Fairy Bow Bells, gets the action and the audience on the go instantly and does a neat double with his father, the King of the Fairies, straight from the Kenny Everett school of good taste. Katy Dean’s self-regarding Queen Rat matches over-the-top menace with absurdly involved rhyming slang and a powerful singing voice. Harriett Hare (Alice Fitzwarren) is sweetly innocent, but bossy with it, and Harriet Harper (Dick), in an impressive professional debut, is a thigh-slapping Principal Boy with a nice twinkle of self-parody. Importantly, as a pair, they are charming, of course, but also funny.
Maybe the chase could be a touch wilder or the slapstick a bit bolder, though Idle Jack gets well custard-pied, but it’s pretty much perfect Christmas entertainment. The four young dancers in the ensemble throw themselves into a jolly variety of moves and costumes, Foxton’s designs look good and have their little jokes, MD Nick Lacey is unfailingly inventive at the keyboards and, as in any good pantomime, the drummer works overtime.
Runs until 15 January 2017 | Image: Anthony Robling