Millfield Theatre, Edmonton, London
It is common panto law that "Turn again Dick Whittington, Lord Mayor of London" rings out from the Bow bells to summon Dick back to London to seek his fame and fortune, having been framed by the dastardly King Rat for a crime he did not commit. However, in the Millfield Theatre's 25th anniversary production, Dick is merely advised to turn back without any suggestion of his Mayoral destiny.
In the Millfield Theatre's fourth version of the tale since opening in 1988, the evil King Rat is still intent on ruining Dick's life; however, as this is not underpinned by any malice at the fact that Dick may take the Lord Mayor title King Rat so desires, the audience is left questioning why poor Dick should bear the brunt of King Rat's villainous attention.
Not meeting Dick until a quarter of the way through Act One adds to this confusion and in dispensing with this aspect of the plot from the off, Act One's usual Lord Mayor dream sequence is replaced by a jolly Christmas sing-a-long to show Dick what he would miss were he to venture from London for good. With such a strong Christmas aspect to the production, audiences attending after the 25th December may be somewhat bemused by the scene, but then this does reminds us of how the season has shifted since its original Boxing Day openings in the late nineteenth century.
Writer and director Marc Day has firmly set his Dick Whittington in the East End of London, but, for all its Cockney charm and Ye Olde London aesthetic, the show is severely deprived of rotten rodents and any mention of the plague to explain King Rat's vermin state. The lack of rats leaves little reason for Dick to inherit Tommy the Cat, aside from scaring off King Rat, and with gymnast Erin Jameson in the role, it is a shame not more is made of her acrobatic skills.
The same cannot be said for the cast's excellent voices, which bring far too many a musical number to life. The effect of so many songs on the production is that Dick Whittington resembles a sung-through musical at times. Although Greg Castiglioni's voice is superb and each one of his numbers enjoyable, it appears as though songs have replaced slapstick and there is very little opportunity for his Muddles to partake in the pratfalls required of the role.
Muddles does not even get to board the Saucy Sal as it sails towards an unnamed destination, which leaves Steve Wickenden's Sarah the Cook and Jonathan Eiø's Dick Whittington the only characters left to drive the second act. A comedy mop routine in Act Two heightens the slapstick quota of the evening, but without Muddles, Sarah the Cook alone must drive the comedy in the scene.
The same occurs in Act One when Muddles is left to deliver a lacklustre shop sequence with members of the ensemble. Dame and Comic should be the strongest partnership on stage, but as Muddles and Sarah the Cook are not afforded much stage time together, this only adds to the lack of chaos and anarchy in the production at present.
The ensemble of six dancers executes Emma Rogers's impressive choreography with flair and panache and demonstrates the Millfield's commitment to harnessing fresh talent. An underwater UV sequence is particularly popular with the audience and, in Eiø's Whittington and Harriet Payne's Alice Fitzwarren, the Millfield Theatre has struck gold.
It is just a shame that in their 25th anniversary season, Dick Whittington does not make the most of Wickenden and Castiglioni's excellent comic skills and that audience and Dick alike have to wait until the walkdown before any mention of Dick's destiny as London's next Lord Mayor.
Reviewer: Simon Sladen