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Dick Whittington

Paul Hendy
Sheffield Theatres with Evolution Productions
Sheffield Lyceum

The company of Dick Whittington Credit: Robert Day
Damian Williams as Dolly the Cook Credit: Robert Day

Traditional pantomime returns for another Christmas season to the Sheffield Lyceum with a sparkling production, written and directed by Paul Hendy, of Dick Whittington.

The Sheffield audience is by now accustomed to the format of Hendy’s pantomimes and welcomes familiar routines like old friends. The teenage girl sitting next to me, who ‘loves the funny bits’ was able to join in the popular Lyceum bench and gorilla sequence, word perfect, gestures and all.

But, in addition to re-visiting what’s old and familiar (Damian Williams comes to mind), the fascination of pantomime lies in what’s new and excitingly different from last year.

Hendy has re-worked the traditional story of Dick Whittington to include not only folksy representations of London streets and the nearby countryside, but splendid settings in Westminster Abbey, on board ship, beneath the sea and in a Moroccan palace and dungeon.

Helga Wood has worked her usual magic with impressive painted sets, an endless supply of outrageous costumes, including a bikini for the Dame, and a terrifying sea monster which invades the stalls, much to the delight of the little boys who tried to fight it off.

Samantha Womack, a familiar TV face, is a charming Fairy, mainly in suspension, which she seems to cope with effortlessly, who delights the audience when encouraging them to correct her southern vowels.

The love interest is supplied by Jo Parsons as Dick and Gemma Sutton as Alice who sing beautifully and also contribute to the comic sequences. Craig Garner is a convincing and lovable cat, who communicates perfectly by miaowing.

Given the conventions of pantomime, it is always interesting to see how key figures relate to the child audience. Andy Day, as Captain Crabstick, has a background in Children’s TV, and a warm persona which immediately draws the children in. They respond willingly to his greeting.

John Barr is an excellent King Rat. He performs in character with absolute conviction. No ‘Nudge nudge wink wink’ here. His job is to terrify, which he does within acceptable limits, so there were no crying children, but an audience which responded as to an outrageous uncle, safe in the knowledge that this was a villain to enjoy.

As Dolly the Cook, Damian Williams has a huge stage presence and dominates the action. He is not a lovable Dame. Far from drawing the children in, he adopts a persona which is gruff, hectoring and confrontational. Too much of his performance is aimed at the adult audience, lots of ‘nudge nudge wink wink’, or sexual innuendo and double entendre. Do the Dads still want this?

However, he has enormous self-assurance and copes with the many costume changes, physically energetic sequences and singing with boundless energy.

The music and dancing is particularly pleasing. This year the musicians were placed in side boxes, which meant we could see them, and they could easily see the stage, particularly helpful when sound or music effects accompany action.

The ensemble of adult singers and dancers, choreographed by Aaron Francis, bring veuve and colour to the performance, and the Purple Team of the Junior Ensemble dance beautifully and also contribute to the sketches.

A full audience in the Lyceum responded enthusiastically to the show and enjoyed opportunities for participation, particularly when some were squirted with water or bombarded with mock eggs. This is a good family outing.

Reviewer: Velda Harris