Tim Major and Melissa Waudby
Broadway Theatre, Barking
Fairytales usually have a Fairy in there somewhere, but with Dick Whittington being more an English legend, perhaps that's why magic doesn't make an appearance at all in the Broadway's production. There's also no Idle Jack character, but he's not missed much as comic interaction is provided through other means.
Sam Melvin and Matt Burcombe play Spitz and Spatz, two rapping rats with dyslexia who struggle to read the Ratfather's plans for domination. They provide much of the comedy, alongside a devilishly suave Andrew Piper as the Ratfather. Piper's straight man to Melvin and Burcombe's comedy duo works a treat and the audience enjoy their street talk patter of "Sorry bruv, I mean boss" as well as referring to various other characters as "Chavs".
Not only does Tim Major co-write, direct and choreograph, he also plays hot sweet tea loving Sarah the Cook. Major plays his dame as a cross between Harry Hill and Phil Mitchell in a dress. He is both butch and camp and demonstrates that his Dame is simply the pièce de résistance of his great contribution to this community production.
In fact it is Sarah's hot sweet tea that helps save the day and this is only one of many deviations to the usual narrative. Dick isn't accused of stealing from the safe, as there is no safe, and instead of working in the shop, he is given the position of Alice's bodyguard. He is later banished by Fitzwarren as he fails to protect Alice from the Ratfather's kidnap plan and so decides to set sail to do a deal somewhere and raise money for the ransom. Alderman Fitzwarren is the Mayor of Barking, Tiddles the confused cat thinks she's a dog and Dick gets rewarded with money to be able to pay the Ratfather's ransom for kidnapped Alice as a result of Tiddles ridding King Elvish's watery kingdom of salty sea dog pirates after a shipwreck caused by natural, not magical forces.
Confused? The premise of Dick's cat saving the day is replaced by Sarah saving the day with her tea and so the mirrored world of a rat infested Morocco becomes underwater Los Aquarius, where the salty sea dogs come a cropper when Sarah and the gang make up a brew. It seems the writers have gone a bit too far in reinventing the plot and the narrative comes across as a little confused, especially in the second act where the audience is invited to sing in order to help Dick, Tiddles and Sarah get to the top of the sea as quickly as possible. The louder the audience sing, the quicker their mermaid friends will swim and lead the three to land. However, whilst Sarah explains this, the London cityscape cloth flies across the stage depicting that she is already in London without having sung a word.
The contribution of the youth cast to this production is immense and a joy to watch. They beam with smiles each time they dance and look as though they've come fresh out of a Colgate advert, teeth shining in the lights. No step is out of time and no-one looks as if they'd rather be elsewhere as is so often the case. It is easy to see that they have a real passion for performing and look very much at home on stage.
Co-writer Melissa Waudby is another big contributor to the show, producing and designing as well. Her set, although simple, is extremely effective and looks like Cath Kidston had a say in the design scheme of Sarah's kitchen.
This is a most enjoyable production of an old tale given a new reworking, whilst still remaining true to the many traditions of pantomime.
Plays until 2nd January 2010
Reviewer: Simon Sladen