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Dick Whittington

Brendan Healy
Newcastle Pantomime Company
Journal Tyne Theatre, Newcastle
(2011)

Tyne Theatre, Dick Whittington

I feel quite guilty about reviewing this show. All the other pantos I have seen or will see this year have had their press nights a few performances into the run, giving them a chance to “bed in”, for the cast to know how the audience will react (yes, it’s different every performance, of course, but a pattern of audience reaction does emerge) and so adjust the pace and dynamic to produce the greatest effect. This preview period also gives the director the chance to make changes, to cut or shorten those things which don’t work and adjust those which do but not as effectively as they should.

But the Newcastle Pantomime Company chose to have its press night on the first performance and so we, the press, did not see it at its best.

It’s very much a traditional panto and certainly ticks most of the boxes, with a good mixture of comedy, romance and music (although the latter could do with some cutting: long musical interludes don’t really work in panto), but the pace was too much the same throughout.

This will change, of course, for most of the cast is experienced in panto and will adjust.

As always at the Tyne Theatre, the cast is led by comedy duo Maxie and Mitch—Max Peters as Captain Scuttle and Billy Mitchell as Long John Slavver—who have worked as a comedy duo for many years and they bounce off each other superbly. Charlie Richmond plays the bumbling Idle Jack with great aplomb and Catherine MacCabe swaggers appropriately as Dick. Moggie the Cat is played by choreographer Emily Swan as a real character, avoiding the twee-ness into which too many performers fall in this part. Her hard edge makes her ability to easily conquer the rats very believable.

Jayne MacKenzie plays a Queen Rat who delights in her evil but her exchanges with the audience felt a little too rushed so that her appearances did not draw the boos and hisses they should, but this is a fine example of the sort of thing which a few performances will put right as she begins to feel the audience reaction and can build upon it.

Samantha Phyllis Morris does all she can with that most thankless of parts, principal girl Alice Fitzwarren. This part, too, will build as the run progresses. Kevin O’Keefe, another regular, moves, so I understand, from Dame to the dual role of Alderman Fitzwarren and the Sultan of Morocco although it has to be said that both roles, especially the latter, are somewhat under-written.

Impressionist Terry Joyce, in his first panto, plays Bessie the Cook (Why Bessie? It’s always Sarah!) but I’m afraid he just doesn’t seem to “get” the Dame. If you’re going to play Dame as a “bloke in a dress” (which is, I think, the best way) as he does, then you need to be either over the top or—much more difficult—subvert the whole thing while still retaining the character’s function within the story. The latter requires a really close relationship with the audience so that “nods and winks” can be immediately picked up. Joyce looked uncomfortable and never really made the audience connection.

I am sure that, by now, this will be a different show and I really would suggest to the Tyne Theatre that they should, in future, give the show a chance to bed in before inviting the press. I’m sure that if I had seen it a few performances later, this review would have been much more enthusiastic!

Reviewer: Peter Lathan