Hailing from Ireland, I had never come across the panto of Dick Whittington before. In my city it tended to just be Aladdin, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty in endless rotation. So, I was incredibly excited to head to Dick Whittington and hear the heroic tale of a boy and his feisty cat a la panto. The New Wimbledon Theatre certainly does not disappoint with a totally consuming experience for the audience, even walking down towards our seats we were greeted by a chorus of young children on the balcony of the theatre; a magical beginning to the evening.
With a stellar cast across the board from tiny tots to Matthew Kelly; the performance is engaging and full of Christmas energy and happiness. We are spectacularly greeted by an ensemble of dancers, the villagers, who start the show with a bang (literally, as there are some fireworks!) The dancing throughout the night by the chorus is meticulously put together by choreographer Aaron Renfree, full of high energy, flips, twirls and never-ending smiles. The younger group of dancers, the juveniles, are full of enthusiasm and bring an energetic magic to the musical numbers. The main cast are bewitching, keeping the attention of the children throughout the evening. Time Vine as Idle Jack wins the audience over the moment he walks out onto the stage. His comedic wit, high energy and never ending fish puns has everyone enraptured throughout the show. With this being Arlene Phillips’ inaugural panto, she could possibly do with more confidence in her audience interaction, particularly when she is in competition with so many strong personalities. Her performance is weak, lacking the fairy-godmother charm that the panto audience are accustomed to. The romance between Alice and Dick conveys a true chemistry and sweetness between Grace Chapman and Sam Hallion, who are equally as charming. The music and singing is well arranged and led by musical director Mal Maddock. Some cast members may be slightly out of their comfort zones, but with such strong support from the orchestra, they carry it off with confidence and flair.
The stage is ever changing and impressive, travelling through the streets of London, to shipyards and palaces. Through complicated and demanding set changes the crew behind the scenes are working incredibly hard, with the cast taking it in turns to engage the audience with little skits and songs. The costume department form First Family Entertainment run by Emma Waugh dresses the cast in their various glittery dresses and suits. Younger members of the audience are all fascinated throughout the show and there are always shared laughs for Cook Sarah’s ostentatious dresses.
This was by far the best panto I have attended in a long time. The production values are magical and the energy of every person on that stage creates a wonderful experience, regardless of your age. You’re never too old to shout ‘HE’S BEHIND YOU’ as I quickly learnt. I would highly recommend a visit to Dick Whittington to be truly immersed in that Christmas spirit.
Dick Whittington is running at the New Wimbledon Theatre until January 15.
Photo: Darren Bell