Dick Whittington

Kenneth Alan Taylor

Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company

Nottingham Playhouse

From 27 November 2015 to 16 January 2016

Review by Simon Sladen

After years of relegation, 2015 sees Dick Whittington back in the top 5 of panto titles. And when productions are as exquisite as the Nottingham Playhouse’s, it’s easy to see why.

With plenty of opportunity for a strong moral and variety of settings, Dick Whittington offers writers and designers the chance to play with an English legend and mould it into something magical. In Kenneth Alan Taylor’s production, Dick still becomes thrice Lord Mayor of London, but Morocco is dispensed with in favour of a rhumba-tastic, rip-roaring trip to Rio.

As the Olympics are only nine months away, host-city Rio is the perfect destination for Dick and the team as they journey to the Americas in search of goods for Fitzwarren’s Emporium.

In this production, Fitzwarren is still an Alderman, but played in Dame form by Anthony Hoggard. Paired with John Elkington’s sublime Sarah Whittington, the two cook up a storm and are much-loved permanent fixtures of Nottingham’s festive treat.

Taylor’s script utilises language to the full and much humour arises from comedy patter with synonyms. Hoggard’s Flossie Fitzwarren is constantly reminding her fellow friends that her establishment is an Emporium, not a shop, nautical puns come a-plenty and Kevin McGowan’s smooth and sinister King Rat relishes reminding the audience of their literacy incompetence by explaining his choice of superior vocabulary to great comic effect.

With act two's focus on Rio, the tale's narrative has been slightly re-aligned to centre around King Rat’s quest to bump off Tallulah the Cat rather than rid the Brazilian city of rats. Taylor never shies away from the darker side of pantomime and the scene in which Tallulah looks set to meet her end is most dramatic.

New to the Playhouse this season, Jasmine White’s Tallulah is full of feline femininity and brings another dimension to the usual Tommy the Cat role. With very little make-up, the audience is privy to her thoughts and feelings by way of White's expressive face and nimble physicality whilst her presence adds another important female role to the pantomime stage.

Full of drive, Natalie Taylor-Gray‘s Alice Fitzwarren is a strong Principal Girl alongside Tim Frater’s Dick Whittington full of charm. When Dick is forced to leave London having been framed for stealing money from the Emporium's till, Sarah, Jack and Tallulah decide to stay rather than join him. In doing so, they keep their promise to work for the Fitzwarrens and this strong moral runs throughout the show to create a tender moment as Dick waves goodbye to his friends and family.

In the role of Dick’s best friend, Matthew Chase’s lovable Jack captures the very essence of childhood mischief with his playful nature winning the hearts of the boys and girls. His comedy bedroom sequence with Elkington aboard the HMS Hopeful as Jack and Sarah attempt to sleep is a veritable giggle-fest as beds disappear, reappear and rotate throwing the two port and starboard as the ship sets sail.

When Jack almost loses his teddy in a glorious transformation shipwreck sequence that sees the HMS Hopeful torn apart and a hilarious chase sequence complete with sharks, rabbits and a whale, the boys and girls shriek out and are much relieved when Teddy returns in act two. The investment and engagement of the audience is testament to the cast's honesty and integrity in creating believable characters in the true spirit of pantomime.

Rebecca Little's Fairy Bowbells adds to the comedy stakes as her ditzy fairy fails to remember whom she's helping whilst John Morton's musical direction ensures toes tap, hands clap and young and old alike bob up and down for the Songsheet.

A production full of charm and elegance, the Playhouse pantomime is a much-loved festive treat that brings a smile to your face and a giggle to your belly season after season.