Dick Whittington and His Amazing Cat

Sean Canning with Matthew Chappell, Steven Jackson, Kate Mitchell and the cast
Eight-Freestyle and Contact
Contact, Manchester

Dick Whittington and His Amazing Cat Credit: Shay Rowan
Dick Whittington and His Amazing Cat Credit: Shay Rowan
Dick Whittington and His Amazing Cat Credit: Shay Rowan
Dick Whittington and His Amazing Cat Credit: Shay Rowan

Although promoted as an upbeat, modern production, Dick Whittington and His Amazing Cat from Eight-Freestyle and Contact contains the traditional elements of the classic story.

In London, King Rat (Adam Urey) kidnaps, with a view to replacing, the lord mayor. Fairy Bowbells (Kate Mitchell) hopes to thwart the rat’s scheme by manoeuvring Dick Whittington (Marcquelle Ward), newly arrived in London from Wythenshawe, into running for mayor. Strangely, instead of, say, funding his campaign, the fairy shows her support by giving his cat Scratch (Anton Phung) the power of speech. Dick falls for captain’s daughter Alice Fitzwarren (Rebecca Crookson) and so incurs the enmity of Idle Jack (Red Redmond) who frames him for a crime, thereby compelling Dick to take a roundabout route to his destiny.

Everything an audience might expect from a panto is present and correct and the emphasis is rightly placed on getting the audience involved. The show starts with members of the cast informing us how they would like to be greeted when they appear on stage and towards the end the house lights go up while the audience simulate the waves of the ocean.

A four-piece live band dressed as pearly queens and kings belt out covers of well-known pop songs and power ballads. There are, however, modern twists on the established formula—Anton Phung’s breakdancing cat Scratch dispatches rats using kung-fu complete with whip-crack sound effects.

This is a high-quality production. A quartet of dancers in full-on chorus girl sequins, massive headdresses and high heels bring a sharp blast of showbiz glamour to the stage. The dance troupe is supported by an additional 16 young dancers whose contribution is vital. The choreography by Michelle Yeomans, Alice Percival, Ellie Owen and Sean Canning takes no account of their tender years and the athletic routines, with somersaults, back flips and splits would challenge hardened professionals. The youngest dancers even get to exploit the ‘aww factor’ with charming routines as cupcakes and jellyfish.

Screen projections and a stage set with bright storybook images move the story from London to the grim underground lair of King Rat and a very evocative underwater kingdom.

While the emphasis throughout is on involving the youngsters in the audience (sometimes too successfully—invited to offer suggestions for a suitable punishment for King Rat, there are a worrying number who shout for his death) the jokes are aimed at the adults. This is more in the sense of being topical than saucy. The lord mayor is a bumbling Boris Johnson lookalike and the captain names his ship the SS Corona—because it is catchy. Dick finds his fortune not by resolving the rat problem experienced by a sultan but by being shipwrecked on ‘Love Island’. Don’t know about the youngsters, but all of the jokes in that scene went over my head.

The credits list four contributors to the script and four choreographers. An element of too many cooks may account for the show feeling disjointed and the first act that bit too long. We never even get to see Dick elected mayor—he just appears as such in the closing scene. The second act, which is much tighter and features a wonderfully ramshackle version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas", works really well. This is only the second night of the show and the cast are already indulging in the Mrs Brown’s Boys routine of looking for easy laughs / amusing themselves by fluffing lines, so by the end of the run the mood may be in danger of getting really loose.

Eight-Freestyle’s bright and cheerful production makes Dick Whittington and His Amazing Cat an ideal festive show for all the family.

Reviewer: David Cunningham