Gala Theatre, Durham
Wow, it's so many years that I just can't remember...oh yes I can, thirteen years! Thirteen years since I've been able to actually sit back and enjoy a pantomime. The reason for that is that I'm normally in them and not able to spend my time enjoying them! So its a rare treat that I can be invited to be a kid, take it all in and have some fun, rather than work.
The Gala Theatre in Durham is fast building a great reputation for in-house productions but come Christmas time they have a great following for the classic that is Panto.
Director Simon Stallworthy has made a smart move keeping local actors Donald McBride and Neil Armstrong as regular pantomime performers. Rather than have some shameful celebrity wannabes like Chico ( remember him? Thought not) and the awful thing that is Jedward as his stars, he has quality actors who know their craft. An audience likes to get comfortable and used to their local panto stars, and with these two they can't go wrong. Creating a panto family is the way to go rather than offering people who have had fifteen minutes of embarrassing fame!
Armstrong opens the show as the Rat King, oozing slimy rock star charm. Setting out to spoil the life of Dick Whittington and everybody's Christmas, he plays this Rat with great comic menace. McBride as Sarah the Cook has more on the menu than mince pies, as he flirts with innuendo and well... everybody in sight. He is simply a quality Dame, and there ain't nothing in the world like this dame!
Playing Claudia the Cat is the sexy and feisty Ebony Feare. She is a breath of funky fresh air as Dick's sidekick cat, if - I have to say - sadly underused! If comedy duo Odd and Bodd, played by Paul Hartley and Jane Deane, were a little more physical and slapstick it would have rounded off a very good cast. Not to be outdone by the cast are the superb supporting dancers and the young chorus from The Gala Theatre Stage School who where all used to magnificent effect.
With lighting design by Jim Sobo and Graham Rushton and costumes by Tony Ayling, Dick Whittington has a real glitzy Christmas razzle dazzle. This was also achieved by the help of great music by Simon Hanson and James McCutheon - apart from the song that closes act one! Otherwise it was slick and rocking. Director and writer Stallworthy has a great working relationship with his actors allowing them a little freedom, which opens up the stage and performances, letting the audience into the world of Dick Whittington.
As my first Pantomime night out in a long time I couldn't have wished for better. I laughed very loudly, I giggled, my foot was tapping, I was clapping along, I was there in panto land and having a cracking time. North East pantomimes with a local cast that you get to know and love are the only way to go for me. The Gala Theatre's Dick Whittington has it, so go enjoy it!
Reviewer: Wayne Miller