Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Dick Whittington

Eric Potts
First Family Entertainment
Regent Theatre, Stoke-On-Trent
(2009)

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It's been ten years since the first panto at the Regent Theatre and what better way to celebrate this theatrical decade than with a wonderful Stokified version of Dick Whittington?

This year it's Whittington himself for Jonathan Wilkes, having played here for the past four seasons. As there's no Idle Jack, Wilkes' Dick is a combination of principal boy and comic. With more comic than hero in his constitution, one is left to ponder whether Wilkes could be even better as a comic to someone's straight principal boy; he is funny, knows how to interact with and work an audience, provides much slapstick humour, can sing and dance and is an all round chirpy chappy. Yes, he is handsome, constituting principal boy material, but the love scenes aren't as tender as they could be with Wilkes playing them as a cheeky schoolboy.

Back at the Regent for a second time is Christian Patterson as buxom beauty Sarah the Cook. It is a great treat to see her allowed to deliver some of those wonderful double entendres associated with Mr Whittington: the audience is encouraged to shout "We want Dick" and Sarah reminds the Alderman that her son is no trouble: "He's my Dick and he's got a little Tommy". Complete with a wonderful array of costumes, a highlight has to be Patterson's rendition of 'On the Good Ship Lollipop' aboard the vessel of the same name dressed as a larger than life Shirley Temple with comic choreography and witty lyric changes.

Wilkes and Patterson provide a well executed slapstick cooking scene, as well as the much loved 'Twelve Days of Christmas' with water pistols for "Twelve pints of water" or should that be gallons? One word of advice - water bottles should not be used in retaliation to the annual drenching otherwise you will end up looking as if you've come straight from a wet T-shirt competition at Butlins!

Dick's love interest Alice is played by Amy Diamond. Not only is she an extremely attractive principal girl, she ticks all the boxes, proving that she can sing, dance and act superbly too. In a male-led narrative such as Dick Whittington, the principal girl is often easily forgotten as the adventure, not the romance, takes centre stage, but Diamond makes such an impact and performs so well that this could never be the case here. More importantly, her Alice does not come across as soppy or, as is being seen more often these days, too feminist in nature; she plays it in the true vein of pantomime and is a joy to watch.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for her onstage father played by Martin Tideswell. To be fair, Tideswell is a journalist and should never have been allowed to tread the boards in the first place, but due to his work on local newspaper The Sentinel he makes an appearance and is the weak link in this very strong cast.

Sheila Ferguson provides a sassy Fairy with a belter of a voice against a sniffling, scratching and grunting King Rat played by Steven Serlin. Serlin's King Rat resembles a young streetwise Boyice from Only Fools and Horses and, like Ferguson's Fairy Oatcakes, also knows how to belt it with a menacing rendition of Queen's "I want it all". His King Rat isn't quite evil enough though and in the final fight against Dick Whittington an audible cheering for King Rat could be heard from the children in the audience.

Of course in Pantoland where there's a rat, there's a cat and Kayleigh McIntyre's Tommy is totally feline with not a hint of human. Dressed in fur from top to toe, including a full face mask, she uses her body to convey emotions and cat-like gestures realistically with the occasional "Meow" thrown in for good measure. She is often on all fours and makes the perfect pal for Dick, whilst fending off evil rats with a high kick that even Jackie Chan would be proud of.

This production is full of lively musical numbers, with more than a few Take That hits, and energetic dance routines courtesy of choreographer Nikki Wheeler. Solid direction from Matt Salisbury means that First Family Entertainment has achieved a dazzling production and should be applauded for adding this traditional title to their expanding portfolio of tales. Long may this continue.

Playing until 10th January 2010

Reviewer: Simon Sladen