Review: Dick Whittington and his Cat, Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds. Until January 15.

Dick Whittington and his Cat, Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds. Until January 15.

DIRTY rats run the City of London, spreading a dangerous contagion; the disease they unleash threatens good folks’ very way of life; all the money has been stolen, leaving the poorest and not the rats to shoulder the blame.

A pantomime is supposed to be an escape from newspaper headlines and life’s other cares but it is too easy to draw the parallels at the Theatre Royal to think nobody made the connection when choosing this year’s festive fare.

The tale of Dick Whittington is based on the true story of London’s first mayor, but scratch a little deeper and it has plenty of relevance in 2011. The Theatre Royal’s version even includes a ship’s captain who looks and sounds like a younger Robert Peston.

Fear not, though: apart from one joke about the credit crunch the metaphor is not pursued and within minutes this charming rib-tickler of a production has banished all thoughts of the mess outside.


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All the elements are there: handsome hero; refreshingly modern heroine; bumbling old father; a baddie just the right side of frightening, rocking music, bright, clever sets and a raunchy dame.

Sarah the Cook, played by Stephen Weller, appears bottom of the cast list but he and his outfits are one of the top reasons this panto takes off. Each scene brings a hilarious change, each costume reflecting the setting. A seagull tops a hairdo and lifebuoys on his chest welcome all aboard for the trip to Morocco. The final scene has gents wondering how they will ever again view the mother-in-law’s Aga in the same way.

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Weller, reflecting this production as a whole, does not overdo the arch adult humour, making up for it with an infectious smile and a song. This being Bury St Edmunds, there is also a nice line in opera gags, part of a highly entertaining score, including numbers from Adele to Andy Williams via One finger, one thumb as audience participation kicks in.

The lasting feeling is one of great warmth and joy, largely down to the uniformly excellent cast. All are worthy of praise but perhaps special mention should go to Victoria Butler, who, as Fairy Bowbells, bosses the final scenes with Martin Richardson’s Captain Lubber. She is a scatty, eccentric presence, who helps leave the audience laughing and singing along.

Hopefully, Friday night’s sparse feel to the audience is not a sign that pantos are this year beyond people’s pockets. The price of a ticket to this production will prove a solid investment for anyone wanting to raise more than a modicum of Christmas cheer among family and friends this bleak midwinter.

Mark Crossley

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