The ensemble with Julie Paten as Fairy BowBells, Jordan Ginger as Tommy the Cat and Ian Adams as Sarah the Cook. Pictures: Tim Thursfield, Express & Star

Dick Whittington

Wolverhampton Grand


The Press night audience had an extra Christmas treat as the Grand celebrated its 125th birthday – to the very day – with a surprise appearance of comedy legend Jimmy Tarbuck.

Years of experience had the audience eating out of his hand the moment he walked on stage. We had been promised a surprise guest to present the theatre with a birthday cake and surprises don’t come much bigger than that.

And the birthday celebrations continued with another family orientated panto, this time written and directed by Ian Adams, who also gave us a good, old fashioned, traditional dame as Sarah the Cook, all bustle and bosoms, but he don’t care, he don’t care . . .  I must stop doing that.


Jimmy Tarbuck with a 125th birthday cake for the cast

The star of the show is Aaron James as Idle Jack, who has a rapport with the audience from the moment he walks on stage and has that rarest of gifts in panto . . . new jokes. Quite a shock. He is a funny man and on the clapometer rating on the curtain calls, is already a crowd favourite.

Co-incidence can be a strange thing and James started his career as a Green Coat, with Warner’s on the Isle of Wight – a holiday camp entertainer, and, starring in the panto are Jeffery Holland, remember Spike in Hi-Di-Hi – and everybody does -  who plays Alderman Fitzwarren and Sue Pollard, Peggy in Maplin’s holiday camp, who plays Queen Rat.

Pollard, who lost out to a singing Jack Russell on Opportunity Knocks  - whatever happened to that dog? – is just too nice to be evil, it’s hard to be magnificently malevolent when the audience obviously loves you, and baddies are not really meant to chat amiably with the audience, but who cares, it’s panto and anything goes.


Sue Pollard as Queen Rat and Jeffrey Holland as Alderman Fitzwarren

Holland, a notable dame himself, adds a little decorum to proceedings as the Alderman with his centre stage emporium, and a desperate problem with rats – which is where Coronation Street favourite Ryan Thomas comes in as Dick, a likeable lad with just the right amount of dashing matinee idol air about him as he fights to clear his name and woo Alice, played with charm and innocence by Katie Marie-Carter, starting as a sweet little girl and growing with the plot into a feisty woman.

Jordan Ginger is superb as the rapping cat, Tommy, turned into a real character by Adams instead of the lithe add on we usually get in Whittington.

There is a glorious performance from Julie Paton as Fairy Bow Bells. She looks the part, oozes goodness and has a lovely voice to boot, giving the Whitney Houstan classic One Moment in Time some real wellie. The song was written for the opening of the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul incidentally, which is a pub quiz question if ever I saw one.


Aaron James as Idle Jack

And as this is Dick Whittington, set in London, the obviously we have to head off to Morocco – some traditions defy logic – but as we have to go and get shipwreck by a storm, which didn’t half give the backcloth a shake, then thankfully soap regular Tom Roberts is there as the Sultan to welcome us, offering gold and riches to anyone who can rid his sultanate of rats, who have turned up with Pollard.

Speaking of rats, Act 1 ends with a giant of a beast, red eyes glowing, which soars off stage and out over the audience, an impressive frightener to send everyone rushing to the bar.

Paton is also the choreographer and the hard working ensemble of eight, four men four women, give us routines a cut above run of the mill, including playing the spoons, a sort of sit down hand jive, They have to be rats, sailors, townsfolk, customers . . . anything else the script requires. They are hardly off stage and seem to have more costume changes than Adams, whose costumes become more over the top as the show goes on. Tradition should be his middle name.


Ryan Thomas as Dick and Jordan Ginger as Tommy the cat

Just for variety we had a bit of tap and even a hint of Wilson, Keppel and Betty – ask you grandparents about that.

The five man band in the pit keep things ticking along while Ben Harrison has found a good sound balance with Tom Johnson creating some wonderful light patterns, probably the first time many people have noticed the Grand’s wonderful ceiling. He also uses a frame of LED boxes facing the audience, not too bright, but enough to black out the stage completely when needed. Clever stuff.

The sets are glitzy, costumes sumptuous and the result is a festive, traditional panto with plenty of audience participation, nothing to frighten the horses – apart from the giant rat of course – and a show that can be enjoyed by the whole family from tots to maiden aunts.


Katie Marie-Carter as Alice

And we even had a little extra surprise at the end, a blast from the past. I won’t tell you what, but you can Hi-Di-Hi to the Grand until 12-01-19.

Roger Clarke


Index page Grand Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre