Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

It's your turn again, Dick

The good guys . . . gals: Kiara Peaches-Mackay who plays Dick Whittington with Maria White (left) who plays Tommy the cat and Helen Dawson as the fairy (right)

Dick Whittington

Hall Green Little Theatre


THE cast probably knew this was not going to be an easy night from the excellent opening scene, all smoke and backlit green glow, when King Rat got cheers and the good fairy Tinkle got some boos.

Indeed this is the first panto I can recall where the good fairy has actually been heckled, largely by a group of boorish teenagers who led the rat fan club, but the excellent Dave Hirst as the regal rodent and the indefatigable Helen Dawson as Tinkle took it all in their confident stride.

Not that the rest of the audience, with a groups of young scouts and cubs, along with youngsters from the Boys Brigade, in the main lacked either enthusiasm or indeed appreciation. They were up for audience participation from the first few lines – cheering, booing and shouting on cue, creating that strange sound you usually only find in swimming pools on sunny days in the school holidays.

Daniel Robert Beaton as Idle Jack, despite his name, was probably the hardest working of the cast with a running, literally, joke about a growing and remarkably super slim rose bush which the audience had to remind him had to be watered every time Jack mentioned he was idle.

By what seemed to be the 200th time the youngsters were still screaming “water the plant” – apart from the boors of course, who shouted for it to die!

Panto also needs a dame and James Weetman provided us with Sarah Suet, the sort of woman who would drastically change your drinking habits if you woke up next to her. All bust and bustle.

Matt Ludlam's Captain Cockle manages to bumble his way through the whole show without ever appearing fully sober - the original drunken sailor - although when you see his first, and probably, only, mate, Mr Mussel, played with Northern bustle by Jean Wilde you can see why.

Phil Astle, left, who plays Alderman Fitzwarren and James Weetman, the Dame, dressed in civvies

He, or she, or . . . the mate has a collection of jokes that would make a Christmas cracker cringe and were probably old when the animals first heard them as Noah did his stand up set to keep everyone happy on wet evenings.

Indeed the script by the late John Morley seems to be a retirement home for old jokes – and let's be honest it is a memorial garden for some – as well as providing community care for some of the less fortunate one liners.

While Cockle bumbles around afloat Alderman Fitzwarren does the same on land with Phil Astle throwing himself into the role with gusto, or at least his daughter Alice, played by Sarah Lamb, who is . . . well normal, as is our hero Dick, played with a slap of her shapely thighs and traditional boots by Kiara Peaches-Mackay, who had to suffer a few comments about Dick's sexuality – doesn't anyone learn about principal boys any more?

Marie White as Tommy, Dick's loyal cat, makes delightfully realistic cat noises which need to be heard to be believed.

There is good support from Sami Moghraby as Sheik Dahottal – shouldn't that be Dabottal? and his newly promoted wife No 2 Avacado played by Gemma Underwood along with as Katy Evans as another hapless member of Cockle's crew, Sam Seaweed.

The script itself was lighter on music than most pantomimes with the only songs Charles Penrose's The Laughing Policeman, Ralph Reader's On The Crest of a wave,  sea shanty Drunken Sailor and a finale of Slade's Merry Christmas, Everybody.

That left the band of Geddes Cureton on keyboards and director Roy Palmer on drums with mainly sound effects and incidental music played quietly in the background, which, incidentally, included Barry Manilow's Could it be Magic and Nina Rota's haunting theme from Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet.

There was also an enthusiastic chorus rushing about when needed in crowd scenes or providing straight men or punch lines when needed.

Good and evil: Dave Hirst who plays King Rat and Helen Dawson who plays the good fairy Tinkle

Perhaps with it being first night and a lively audience, some dialogue was lost behind laughter from a somewhat rumbustious crowd, which left a few punchlines floundering without a set up, while some lines were a liitle too quiet to carry over a sea of wide eyed youngsters.

As the run goes on pace, which was by no means sluggish but did stutter from time to time, will no doubt pick up and the cast will settle into a comfortable rhythm - and they will probably not face another audience for the rest of the run quite so challenging – not that the audience did not love every minute.

In the days when I wandered the boards - it was the time when I could start a line and still remember how it ended - we used to do a cut down childrens' matinee for panto. They also enjoyed every minute while the cast ended up hoarse, exhausted and with the healthiest of respect for childrens' entertainers.

It brought back memories as the opening night ended in cheers and excited smiles and chatter  - which after all is what it is all about.

A mention too for Roy Palmer's design which gave us two London vistas, a shop, inside and out, a ship at dock and on deck, a Moroccan beach a Sultan's palace and everything in between – all without missing a beat. A credit as well to the dozen scenic artists and set painters and the fly crew..

Patrick Ryan's lighting also helped from setting the scene from the eerie opening to keeping rat and fairy apart.

It is a traditional panto with nothing to shock children – or maiden aunts – packed with equally traditional bad puns and jokes, oh yes it is. Not the strongest script ever but the cast and director made it work and it runs to 15-12-12.

Roger Clarke 

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