DICK WHITTINGTON & HIS CAT
St Joseph’s Players
Directors Pauline Nevell & Gabrielle Fitzsimons
Musical Director Stuart Peacock
Choreography Callan Tennant & Jennel Unsworth
Sunbeam’s children’s choreography Christy Coleman & Louise Bailey
“It’s pantomime time”, a magical phrase that conjures up colourful costumes, outlandish characters and lots of fun. What is it about this entertainment that brings back an audience year after year? Is it the stories they know so well? Is it the pantomime business? Is it the silly songs or those corny jokes? Nobody has come up with an answer. It just works, but it has to be done correctly. There is a formula and, when applied, a wonderful time is had by all.
Back in the day professional productions were spectacular with huge casts and big budgets. Over the years, and mainly due to costs, there has been a paring back, mainly in the story telling although keeping to the principal characters. The in-house script for this production, by Doreen Johnson, brings back and extends the story of Master Whittington and his adventures.
Traditional scenery, designed and painted by Helen Loynd, gave credence to this tale of rags to riches. The technical crew put the sparkle into the unfolding narrative. Those all-important costumes including the red, white and blue finale walk-down set did not disappoint. A special mention goes to make-up team Vicky Dixon and Rebecca Gerrard for character make-up which completed the visual imagery.
The direction captured the spirit of pantomime: the main and sub-plots were neatly delivered. The audience was worked and worked; the set pieces worked well but could have been a little cleaner. All the musical content was contemporary and well executed. The percussionist covered all the prat falls, trips and bodily contacts all of which added to the fun. The choreography was an integral element to the overall success whether tap or on point. All was carried out by a team of well-presented, experienced dancers.
The use of young children, “Sunbeams”, goes back a long way. They had their moment on stage performing songs and dancing. This troupe of very young children was well rehearsed and disciplined creating a golden pantomime moment.
Pantomime has to be high energy; all the ensemble work was carried out with enthusiasm giving a dramatic platform for the principals.
Rats are causing great problems in London town; the Rat Pack was menacing, and its leader King Rat was played effectively by Ciaran Travis. Everyone’s well-being is under the watchful eye of the enchanting Kat Fairy. Kitti Dixon was a delightful sprite purrrrrring her way into the audience’s favour.
Shopkeeper Alderman Fitzwarren is a good link for the plot lines; he was suitably fleshed out by Colin Magenty. Head of Fitzwarren’s household is Dame Katy, the cook. It is because it is a man playing a woman that makes the dame funny. Keith Hindley is a bloke in a frock and deserved his well-earned laughs. Katy’s son, Idle Jack, is the character who makes friends with the audience and works them throughout. Wayne Lythgoe took on this demanding role. A little short on experience did not stop Wayne from making a valid contribution.
We were introduced to the man-eating Mrs Wittington (Dick’s mother), Donna Wood was careful not to dominate scenes but had great fun playing her men. One of those potential suitors was Captain Bill (Paul Jameson) of the Bouncing Bessie. Paul is a team player and added to the fun and games that is pantomime. After the shipwreck they all ended up in the palace of the Empress of Morocco. Katherine Roberts was the Empress, and Zoe Unsworth played Prince Abdullah. Zoe gave an uplifting rendition of “Memory”. The Londoners were granted a new ship for freeing the land of rats. This was due to the labours of Wittington’s cat, Tom, nimbly portrayed by Terry McCabe. In addition, there was another skin role, a Moroccan camel which was much loved by the younger members of the audience.
Our hero Dick Wittington was played as a true thigh-slapping principal boy to great effect by Clare Nash. Karen Jones brought a strong presence and warmth to the role of Alice Fitzwarren.
Everyone went home feeling better for this seasonal much-loved St Joseph’s Pantomime.