Dick Whittington

Brad Fitt and Stewart Permutt
Cambridge Arts Theatre, Cambridge
(2009)

The streets of Cambridge were paved with ice on a frosty Saturday evening, but this didn't deter our hero Dick Whittington as he searched for fame and fortune in London Town down at the Cambridge Arts Theatre.

The annual Arts pantomime is just like a re-union between old friends, with most of the cast having appeared here numerous times before. For Julie Buckfield as Dick Whittington this is her sixth Cambridge panto.

Buckfield has wonderful stage presence and makes a strong principal boy. Dick's love interest, Alice, is played by Amy Castledine and the two of them sing some tuneful duets and show that they can dance just as well as the ensemble. This production's Alice is a modern motorbike riding young woman training for her City and Guilds NVQ Level 3 in plumbing, a qualification which helps lead to King Rat being flushed away forever and is a nice contemporary take on what is sometimes a dull principal girl character.

John Pennington plays Alice's dad, Alderman Fitzwarren, as a cross between two famous captains; Mainwaring and Peacock, who takes in Dick and a very supple and acrobatic Tommy the cat (Kaine Horey), before casting them aside after Dick gets framed by King Rat.

Baddy and goody play out their battle onstage as is expected and Lisa Millar as Fairy Bowbells and James Hirst as King Rat are well cast in their roles, eliciting cheers and boos when required.

Character wise, panto is all about pairs - principal boy and principal girl, goody and baddy, and, of course, comic and dame. Brad Fitt, who also writes (with Stewart Permutt) and directs (with Dave Murphy), returns this year giving his Sarah the Cook alongside Matt Crosby's Idle Jack. Fitt's Dame is more caring than crazy, with Crosby's Jack more friendly than frantic, but this approach seems to suit the Cambridge production. Having said this, the two still manage to create some comedic moments in a seafaring slosh scene aboard a rocking galleon, with various ingredients ending up on the floor. The result is a slippery surface and some much loved panto tomfoolery.

Praise must also go to a great sounding band, used to their full potential under Barney Ashworth's musical direction. Their delightful tunes are brought alive on stage, danced and sung to by a very talented ensemble. It is a welcome change to see the babes made up of fifty percent boys and fifty percent girls, meaning cross dressing here does not need to occur and everyone can have a partner of the opposite sex when required. Sharp choreography is provided by Scott Ritchie and a highlight of the night is act two's opening number 'In the navy', where instead of the usual "We want you" military clapping, the audience is treated to the chorus tapping to The Village People's 1979 hit.

Cambridge's pantomime is family oriented; nothing is too scary, too rude, too loud or too outlandish. Bright and cheerful costumes compliment a storybook set and add the final touches to this extremely polished panto.

Playing until 17th January 2010

Simon Sladen