Writer: Eric Potts
Director: Jane Joseph
Reviewer: John Roberts
Who doesn’t like some Dick at Christmas? Behave! We are of course talking about Mr. Whittington, Lord Mayor of London, although in this version Lord Mayor of Liverpool in a local twist to the tale – which works perfectly given the maritime history of the city.
Dick Whittington may be one of the lesser-performed pantomimes due to its lack of a traditional prince and princess but, for this reviewer, it’s a firm favourite and certainly rises to the stiff competition. It has the adventure, romance, comedy and one of the best baddies in Pantoland (King Rat) – so all the ingredients are certainly there andwhen the dame of the show is Sarah the Cook, we can’t help but laugh at her dumplings and oversized buns.
At just over two hours including the interval, this festive treat whizzes along and is full of pop songs from the last year – which unlike a lot of productions this year have really been thought out instead of tenuously being shoe-horned in. Director Jane Joseph keeps things tight and the show never outstays its welcome. If one were to find fault then perhaps it could have done with another traditional routine in the second half, the show was just missing a ghost bench or mop scene, but this is nit-picking.
The cast is given a delightfully glitzy and glamorous set to play upon and is lit fantastically by David Howe, who manages to convey real atmosphere especially during King Rat’s scenes… this is a pantomime that isn’t scared to go bold in its colour scheme but also dark when needed. The cast and indeed the ensemble are tight and the excellent choreography by Beverley Norris-Edmunds is creative and full of flair, even the pantomime babes from Dolphin Dance Studios are integrated seamlessly into all routines.
In the titular rôle, Emmerdale’s Kurtis Stacey gives a stellar performance, having come on leaps and bounds since his Easter panto at the Epstein a few years ago. Stacey has gained real confidence and gives the rôle plenty of energy. He also pairs brilliantly with leading lady Leanne Campbell as Alice Fitzwarren; they have a strong on-stage chemistry, which makes a genuinely pleasant change. Campbell also knows how to knock out a song and proves she is more than just a local celebrity – but a true performer in every sense of the word.
On the “good” side we have Sally Lindsay as Fairy Fazakerley, who perhaps plays the rôle a little on the safe side, but she is charming and her couplets delivered with clarity. On the “bad” other side we have the villainous King Rat played with Machiavellian menace by Warren Donnelly and a nice cameo rôle from Hayley Good as a very physical Tommy the Cat.
Comedy turns couldn’t come much finer than performances from Liam Mellor as Idle Jack and Eric Potts as Sarah the Cook, who both manage to engage the audience from the off. The kids love Mellor who whizzes around the stage and plays up to the campness of the character perfectly. Potts is panto dame perfection, he gets the balance between motherly and manly perfect and his gags topical and fresh, but it’s the moments between the lines and his reactions to the on-stage action that really sets him above – this is a performer who is constantly in the moment. Sadly the uniformly excellent cast yet again is let down by Pete Price who lacks any sort of on-stage charisma or panto pizzaz– his Sultan of Morroco is weak and mumbled and makes things difficult to hear even from the sixth row.
Notwithstanding that, astrong seasonal offering from the Liverpool Empire this year and certainly one of the strongest pantomimes in the region, traditional and thrilling in equal measure.
Runs until 3 January 2016 | Image: Mark McNulty