Writer: Daniel O’Brien
Director: Rhiannon Hannon
Musical Director: Jim Lunt
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
The Theatre Royal Wakefield believes in traditional pantomime and does it very well. Even the glossy programme tells us, in between the colour-in drawings and kids’ puzzles, the history of Dick Whittington on stage. The Theatre Royal takes its pantomime seriously, though never solemnly.
Experienced pantomime writer Daniel O’Brien, provides the ideal script for a show that appeals especially to the youngbut keeps their elders not only awake but chuckling. It’s notably strong as a narrative: diversions into audience participation, sing-alongs and semi-relevant slapstick are fun, but never allowed to develop into momentum-stopping “turns” and the traditional story is delivered with pace and a fair amount of coherence.
It’s also an intelligent script with gags for every age, the older generation served up with a modest allocation of harmless innuendo and wryly knowing irony. This suits the style of Chris Hannon, whose Sarah the Cook is his sixth Dame at Wakefield. Refusing to be upstaged by his costumes – it takes some personality not to be overshadowed by a monster cupcake or sailing ship – he has developed a distinctive style which adds a sort of weary grown-up commentary in asides while merrily indulging in all the bad jokes, nods and winks, subversive slapstick and audience insults expected of a good Dame.
Chris Hannon’s is the outstanding performance but, under Rhiannon Hannon the cast of eight forms an excellent ensemble, even if individually some of the performances are less than striking. John Currivan is perhaps not the most terrifying King Rat, but the concept of Rat as Rapper works well in his dextrous delivery of his horrid rhymes. More traditional pantomime rhyming is well looked after by the cut-glass elocution of Philippa Hogg (Fairy Bowbells) who is equally charming as the hornpipe-dancing Bosun Beatrice.
Will Breckin (Dick), Jodie Steele (Alice) and James Dinsmore (Alderman Fitzwarren) all fulfil their traditional rôles capably, with Dinsmore also featuring as Captain Lubber and revealing a fine singing voice as Spartacus, ruler of a distant land. Alistair Higgins has a nice line in pathos as Idle Jack and Aaron Hunt is an athletically gymnastic Tommy the Cat.
Musical Director Jim Lunt is in charge of a small, but ever-resourceful, band. Though in general the cast’s singing voices are not the production’s strongest point, the staging of a varied choice of songs is imaginative and appealing, from the slapstick routine of The 12 Days of Christmas to the black puppetry of an underwater ballet for Don’t Worry, Be Happy to the neat adaptation of We Built this City on Rock’n’Roll, by no means the only time when the youthful eight-strong chorus excelled with Louise Denison’s choreography.
This is as audience-friendly as every pantomime should be and, in Mark Walters’ designs, always good to look at, the proscenium arch decorated with bells, the sets of a picturesque, lop-sided quaintness and the costumes colourful, attractive and, when needed, silly.
Runs until 3 January 2016 | Image: Amy Charles Media