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FeaturedNorth East & YorkshirePantomimeReview

Dick Whittington – Theatre Royal Wakefield

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Writer: Chris Hannon

Director: Rhiannon Hannon

Pantomime is all about traditions – and Wakefield Theatre Royal has plenty of them to spare. The central team of Chris Hannon (writer/Dame) and Rhiannon Hannon (director) is supported by such regulars as Jim Lunt (MD in charge of an ever-attentive trio), Louise Denison (some pretty cool choreography) and Mark Walters (set and costumes – all very smart, with a bonus point for Chris Hannon’s outlandish outfits).

The Wakefield pantos tend not to be terribly messy (the odd assault on the audience with water pistols aside) and introduce clever variations on old traditions: The Twelve Days of Christmas becomes the items ordered from Alice Fitzwarren’s take-away and the old ghost routine gets an enterprising going-over with the Dame’s “victim” (one Charlie at this performance) co-opted to join the group terrified by the ghost of One Eyed Jack, executed on board ship. Chris Hannon’s knowing way of indicating that a tried and trusted favourite is coming up is half the fun!

The story is simplified and Wakefieldised, making much of the difference between London and Yorkshire. Dick sets off from Wakefield to London to follow his dream to be a famous singer/songwriter (very modern) and meets Alice Fitzwarren – no father, no alderman, just a feisty young take-away owner who happens to come from (wait for it) Wakefield – and Tommy the Cat who is making mincemeat of the rat population. Add in Fairy Pearl (very cockney), Ronnie and Regina Rat (a couple of gangsters – Ronnie and Reggie Kray, geddit?) – and, in elaborately costumed pursuit from Wakefield, Dick’s mother, Winnie Whittington.

Sam Nixon is a natural for Dick, delivering his “follow that dream” pronouncements with the right note of self-parody, looking after the songs pleasingly, establishing instant rapport with the audience. Meg Elsegood’s Alice shares the main burden of singing and complements him perfectly. Liz Garland’s Fairy Pearl enters to old-time music hall songs, enjoys an over-the-top cockney accent and appears as assorted other characters, including the Prince of Ponte Carlo’s major domo, and Abigail Butterworth is a suitably gymnastic Tommy.

Chris Chilton is a joy as the shifty Ronnie Rat, inspiring genuine cries of “Oh! No, we’re not!” with his repeated statements that Yorkshire folk are stupid and bullying his very funny meeker sister Regina (Hannah Nuttall), the two shuffling on oozing pseudo-menace. And Chris Hannon sees no reason to change his persona perfected over 12 years as Wakefield Dame, slipping neatly in and out of character, plugging the theatre’s sponsors with wide-eyed innocence, shamelessly signalling the odd rudery or a particularly atrocious pun and, of course, wearing a series of outrageous costumes to the manner born.

The three teams of six youngsters who make up the chorus, on the strength of the one I saw, are well drilled in witty routines by Louise Denison and find plenty of scope for their individual talents.

Dick Whittington manages to preserve the old subversive spirit of panto alongside a very 2022 all-inclusive message. The two species end up living together in harmony, a reformed Ronnie and Regina working for Lord Mayor Whittington in an unexpected reversal of fortunes.

Runs until 31st December 2022.

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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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  1. Once again the cast of Wakey Panto pulled it off. What an amazing panto “Dick Whittington”. We have been going for 12 years now and the panto never fails to disappoint. Every cast member puts in there all and work together to make the best memories for all the audience young and old. Chris Hannon was wonderous as always and Sam Nixon is a real all round talent. All so enthusiastic. After a very tough few months for myself and my family we were cheered up no end by the amazing performance by all. Thanks from the bottom of our hearts xxx

  2. 31st December 2022, our visit to Wakeys panto, Dick Whittington. Just as expected a bloody fantastic show.
    Great music and gags, we always leave the theatre feeling great. My husband Steve makes yet another appearance on the stage as he does every year , so funny as normal. He’s sure he’s set up every year but I just book front row and leave the rest up to the cast !!
    Wouldn’t be the same with the audience participation.
    See you all again December 2023 same place, same time, same date 👍🏻

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