Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Dick Whittington and his Cat

Tom Bright with additional material by Chris Harris
UK Productions
Theatre Royal, Bath
(2011)

Dick Whittington - Mark Moraghan (King Rat) - Photo credit Freia Turland

As one of Dick Whittington’s musical number says “consider yourself part of the furniture” and having appeared at the venue numerous times over the past decade, Chris Harris and Jon Monie have become just that.

Last seen at the theatre seven years ago, Dick Whittington tells the tale of a young boy from Gloucester who ventures to London to seek his fame and fortune. Upon arrival, Dick soon realises that the streets aren’t paved with Gold, but with a little help from Fairy Bow Bells his dreams come true and he becomes, as legend decrees, thrice Lord Mayor of London.

As Sarah the Cook and Idle Jack, Bath favourites Harris and Monie reprise their 2004 roles along with some of the production’s set pieces such as the boxing ring finale and sand dance sequence. Perhaps it’s that the same material is being dragged up again that Harris and Monie’s performances appear a bit too relaxed, as if bored and thirsty for something innovative and new. The revived shop scene lacks pace and energy as Harris goes up and down a ladder all in the name of some jellybeans. Even the slosh is sedate as if in demonstration-mode, rather than up-to-speed for the performance. Sadly this contributes to the show feeling rather tired and slow, not helped by a rather odd structure.

Rather than Fairy Bow Bells and King Rat kicking things off, a voice over and long-winded opening sequence introduces the story, relegating Fairy Bow Bells’s entrance and her conflict with King Rat until much later in Act One. Act Two opens with the usual sea-faring songs as the Alderman prepares to set sail for Morocco, but the Saucy Sal doesn’t depart the dock until half way through the act, leaving the latter part of the narrative rather rushed, much like many of the props which look as though they’ve been thrown together in five minutes. The writing on Sarah’s nuts cart and sand dance-cum-Zumba board resembles something fresh from a primary school art class.

Luckily, the production’s Villain is of the finest variety, snarling, evil and ready to take over the world. Mark Moraghan’s wicked King Rat is the life and soul of this subdued panto party, reminding the audience that ‘rats’ spelt backwards is ‘star’. Moraghan has strong stage presence, a great voice and relishes his well deserved boos.

Other fine performances come from Abigail Brodie as an extremely nimble and expressive Tommy the Cat and a fine-voiced Alice Fitzwarren courtesy of Laura Clements. Richard Colson makes for an eccentric and doddery Alderman, although his rendition of ‘Moves Like Jagger’ is rather awkward and in general many of the songs appear dropped in merely for the sake of it. Carrie Ellis’s perky Fairy Bow Bells launches into ‘It’s Magic’ after the cue “How many fairies does it take to change a lightbulb?” and it falls on the Immortal to sing ‘Under the Sea’ beneath the waves after an impressive piece of submarinal projection.

A thigh-slapping female Principal Boy in the form of children’s television presenter Naomi Wilkinson ensures Bath’s traditional values are adhered to and there is some witty verbal comedy when Dick, Sarah and Jack get tied up trying to communicate the name of the Alderman’s spotted supper.

A reputable producing house, it seems odd that the Theatre Royal does not present its own pantomime each season. With panto expert Harris appearing confined and constrained under the auspices of UK Productions, perhaps a free reign under his own penmanship would enable Theatre Royal Bath Productions to add to their many existing home grown successes?

‘Dick Whittington and his Cat’ plays until 15th January 2012.

Reviewer: Simon Sladen