Dick Whittington

Ben Richards
The Big Tiny & The Met
The Met, Bury

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The cast of Dick Whittington Credit: Howard Barlow
Naomi Wynter as Fairy Bowbells, Connor Baldwin as Dick Whittington, Leni Murphy as the Cat Credit: Howard Barlow
Nancy Penvose as Queen Rat Credit: Howard Barlow
Robert Styles as Sarah the Cook Credit: Howard Barlow
Connor Baldwin as Dick Whittington, Leni Murphy as the Cat and Nancy Penvose as Queen Rat Credit: Howard Barlow
Naomi Wynter as Fairy Bowbells Credit: Howard Barlow

Bury Met's first ever in-house panto with The Big Tiny might be tiny in scale, with a cast of just seven on a small stage used mostly for music gigs, stand-up comedy and small-scale kids' shows, but it isn't tiny on ambition.

The script by Ben Richards, who also directs, is stronger on story than some pantos, starting with Dick's (Connor Baldwin) arrival in London where he meets Fairy Bowbells (Naomi Wynter), his fairy godmother and London pearly queen, with perhaps the only postman working in Britain on that day (Ian Hayles). He acquires a cat (Lena Murphy)—which the audience gets to name—and goes to the shop of Alderman Fitzwarren (Hayles again) where he meets Sarah the Cook (Robert Styles), who is fancied by all of Hayles's characters but takes a fancy to someone in the audience (Mr Parker from a school party when I watched, much to the delight of the kids), which becomes a running gag.

Dick falls for the Alderman's daughter, Alice, here played by Lauren Steele as a bit dizzy and not too bright, which provides some comic mileage, and the cat gets rid of the rats in the shop. However, Queen Rat (Nancy Penvose) is determined to foil them: she steals Alice's necklace and plants it on Dick, getting him thrown out. Alice runs away to sea in disguise, the others follow—there is a Shakespearean man fancying another man not realising he is a woman in disguise moment between Dick and Alice—they get shipwrecked in the desert, then are given riches for ridding the Sultan's (Hayles again, with a touch of Frankie Howerd) palace of rats.

The kids lapped up the audience participation, the silliness and anything scatological of course but some bits that may have worked for an evening audience were met with silence. They didn't go for the metatheatrical elements (e.g. saying things like, "you're not supposed to be on till page 15" or replying to "how do you know that?" with "it's in the script") but I found this a little too knowing and overdone for my taste too, although the running gag about all Hayles's characters looking alike does have a good payoff at the end.

There is a good selection of songs, mostly from musicals and musical films, especially Disney (Mary Poppins, Hercules, Frozen) and Dreamworks (Trolls) with a song from the Snoopy musical and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum's "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid" recurring a few times, but there are a few pop numbers including "Uptown Funk" and Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now". The cat does the best version of "Memory" from Cats I've heard, despite only being able to say "meow".

Sam Lord's sound design is mostly very clear and well-balanced, but also includes lots of short bursts of music and spot effects that work as gags in themselves, such as the cat coming on each time to the Pink Panther theme.

The main panto ingredients are here: a Dame chasing the men, a Villain to boo, a Gorilla to frighten them off one by one, lots of audience participation. It felt a little underpowered and hesitant at the start of this morning schools' performance, but they soon warmed up and worked an enthusiastically noisy audience well. The Met's first attempt at panto is largely successful—and if you agree, you can book now for next year's Aladdin.

Reviewer: David Chadderton