[Press tickets provided in exchange for a review]
Here are a few of my festive favourite things: chocolate for breakfast, homemade mince pies, clove-scented candles and a classic Christmas panto.
I am a sucker for a festive fairytale and a vile villain on stage in the holiday season. Fortunately for me, I’m spoiled for choice with pantomimes around here; our local theatres have plenty of options for us in Hampshire.
This Christmas, I was delighted to visit Theatre Royal Winchester for the first time to review their offering, Dick Whittington.
Dick Whittington is, in my opinion, one of the stronger pantomime stories, and I was excited to see how the folks at Theatre Royal Winchester would bring this much-loved story to life.
That’s the thing with pantomimes; there are rarely any surprises when it comes to the plot, so it’s all about the sparkle, the jokes, the slapstick, the romance, the local references…and the (sometimes not-so) subtle innuendo.
Theatre Royal Winchester is a gorgeous little venue within easy reach of Winchester’s centre and train station. Its smaller size – smaller in comparison to the nearby Mayflower Theatre, I mean – gives the place a cosy, friendly, intimate feel which really added to the whole panto experience.
Written and directed by James Barry, composed by Simon Slater and Produced by Rachel Fox, Theatre Royal Winchester’s Dick Whittington tells the well-known story of the rather hapless Dick and his rise to glory as Lord Mayor of London, after a battle with King Rat and a rather unfortunate voyage at sea.
The plot may be familiar, but it’s the little touches that give this well-worn gem some extra shine.
The cast is fairly modest, but each actor is clearly having a whale of a time and they all work extremely well on stage together, managing to make the familiar roles their own.
Ed Thorpe’s Dick Whittington is the most loveable country bumpkin, and he plays the underdog wonderfully. Thorpe is sweet and silly and is able to laugh at his own expense, which makes him a fantastic lead role and a rather unlikely hero.
Jon Bonner has the task of playing Alderman Fitwarren, Captain Barnacle and Sultan Vinegar (ah! a classic panto joke!). Not only is he great as all three characters, but the cast’s references to the striking similarities between all three men are a brilliant touch and the source of much amusement throughout.
King Rat, played by Kristopher Milnes, is the perfect panto villain, revelling in the boos and hisses, and his minions – the brilliantly named Squeaky Blinders! – are great fun to watch. His furry nemesis, Jessie Angell’s cat, is a sparky sidekick whose dancing and acrobatics add to the magic just that little bit more, and Joanna Brown’s Alice Fitzwarren and Libby Gore’s Fairy Bow Bells are top-notch, too.
What’s a pantomime without its dame!? This is Julian Eardley’s tenth panto at Theatre Royal Winchester, and his Dame Dolly Dumpling is as saucy and sassy as you would hope. Eardley clearly takes great joy in his rambunctious role.
What makes this show even lovelier is the fact that the Support Cast is made up of young people who benefit from the local arts and education charity, Play To The Crowd, which adds to the homegrown, community-feel of the show. There’s a lot of talent there, and it’s wonderful to see it shared on stage.
The set is exactly what you’d expect, too; bright, colourful, and inventive. Effective use of lighting and a sheer curtain adds a magical touch, and there’s plenty of glitter to go around!
This really is a classic family pantomime. It’s not crammed full with lengthy songs and big, showy dance numbers, as some of the bigger ones are, but it is no less magical. There are some lovely musical moments, vintage lines (he’s behind you!) and some sweet interactions between characters, as well as a sprinkling of innuendo (what do you expect when the protagonist’s name is a jester’s gift!?); the whole thing is quite delightful. and rather charming indeed.
The mark of a good panto, in my eyes, is the cast’s ability to engage with the audience – and I don’t mean just the kiddies! Theatre Royal Winchester’s Dick Wittington had little and big folk alike booing and cheering wholeheartedly, and the audience interaction from the cast is great fun.
Thanks to some spontaneous heckling, mishaps with loud noises and a few rogue inflatables, there were plenty of unplanned moments of hilarity and audience participation, too.
With its classic storyline, magical set, singalongs and slapstick jokes, Dick Whittington at Theatre Royal Winchester really is your quintessential family pantomime. It takes me back to going to the local panto as a youngster with my parents, and it’s wonderful that this time-honoured tradition continued in style, unspoiled by over-the-top technology and unnecessarily crude jokes.
This is definitely one to enjoy with all members of the family, young and old alike. It may be, like Dick himself, small in stature, but it sure is a huge amount of fun.
Thanks to this seasonal spectacular, Winchester’s streets are most certainly paved with gold this Christmas.
Dick Whittington is on until Sunday 5 January. Find out more and book your tickets on Theatre Royal Winchester’s website.
Tickets gifted by Theatre Royal Winchester, but as always, my opinions are all completely honest, unbiased and my own