Watford Palace Theatre
Lollipop lady Mrs Wilhelmina Whittington in charge of a matinée house packed with school parties is one way of defining real theatre, at least when she is as accomplished a performer as Terence Frisch, back for his fifth successive year as a dame in the Watford Palace pantomime.
It is writer Andrew Pollard’s fifth panto here too and director Brigid Larmour’s fourth. This year’s Dick Whittington is in good hands. They’ve produced a lively audience pleaser.
From its sparkling front cloth view of London though scenes in Watford, London streets and Fitzwarren’s cheese shop, on shipboard and on a tropical island to its finale at Tower Bridge, designer Cleo Pettit’s beautifully painted settings are striking and colourful.
It looks good and, song-packed, it sounds good (with a great band up in the sky at the back of the set). It is a bit over-amplified but, with the whole audience of youngsters clapping in time to almost every number, it would still be difficult to hear all the words however well-adjusted—but that just shows what enthusiasm the show generates.
Alderman Fitzwarren is Walter van Dyk, another experienced player. His posh tones point up the class contrast in his comic pairing with Frisch’s dame.
As their children Joseph Prowen and Jill McAusland make a similar contrast. He's out-of-work Dick leaving Watford job-hunting, she coming home laden with her latest purchases from London’s smart shops. They are more lightweight than their parents, relying more on youthful charm than the authority learned by experience, but have no problem in getting the audience on their side.
The big baddy is pirate Queen Rat, a human raised by rodents when she was a baby and now just like one, with Fairy Bowbells to oppose her, shimmering red, white and blue with a wand that lights up when it casts spells. Erica Guyatt doesn’t have to make Queen Rat very evil; the audience is already waiting to boo her! Arabella Rodrigo's cockney Fairy has a voice up near bat range, which again contrasts strongly with Guyatt's efforts at a basso profundo.
Then there is Aveta Chan playing Tabby Cat. Her Kung Fu fighting feline displays lots of cat characteristics as well as bright-eyed charm, it’s a delightful performance.
That’s the whole cast. Arabella Rodrigo does an elegant double as Cheese Island priestess and someone dons the skin of a giant white rabbit but there is no chorus, even the Watfordians “Dancing in the Street” to spark of the first scene are the same actors.
There is no local dance school showing off their ballet, no great transformation scene and, do you know, you don’t notice. It is so lively and colourful you don’t miss them. The slop scene is a rather restrained one (or did it get sloshed in the wrong place too early at my matinée?) but there’s a lively action song sheet number and humour a plenty.
It doesn’t matter that not every traditional element is present. Whether “Silly Willy” Wilhelmina’s rapport with the audience to Tabby Cat dispatching rats in rapid succession with her martial arts, a whole house “Aah” when Dick kisses Alice or the roar of booing that drowns out most of Queen Rat’s lines, this is a feel-good production: a panto as lively as the dazzling, glittery costumes at the curtain call walk-down.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton