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DICK WHITTINGTON

The Torch Theatre , The Torch Theatre Milford Haven , December-04-17
DICK WHITTINGTON  by The Torch Theatre You what? Who? Shakespeare? Oh forget about him, love. Forget about silly old Shakespeare. Forget Pinter and old wots-his-face…Becket. In fact, forget the bloody lot of ‘em. Waste of time.

Cos as the years roll by, as the seasons come and go, inexorably so, it’s the Torch Theatre’s annual pantomime that provides all the insight, all the profound spiritual guidance we will ever need to help us on our time travel through this crazy goddam’ world.

It’s the Torch’s panto’, undoubtedly the best on planet earth which never ever fails to blow the dust off of your soul.

Gorgeous on the ole mince pies, the ears and that soul, this year’s Dick Whittington (he really did build London’s first public lavatory, you know)(honest now) is an escapist two-hour mesmeric mirage, bursting with wit, warmth and invention; running jokes, daft precision slapstick, talking puppets, huge ooh-ah video projections; and, of course, a very healthy and generous dusting of double entendre.

To proper pantomime fans though, this off-the-scale quality will not come as a surprise: that pantomime faithful have long known that musical director James Williams, artistic director Peter Doran, and set designer Sean Crowley, are the holy trinity of top notch panto production. And this year the quality of these pantomime galacticos, has only been intensified by the addition of choreographer Francesca Goodridge (who also turns her hand to a bit of acting on the side), lighting designer Ceri James, fight director Kevin M’Curdy (there’s not one but…yes, you’ve guessed it, two sword fights) and costumer Helen Rodgers
Goodridge is spiffing as the Fairy Bow Bells, as are Miriam O’Brien and Joe Robinson, as Alice and Dick. Thankfully all three infuse the de rigueur pastel coloured, Play-School-presenter style of their straight man roles with a welcome dose of street cred mischievousness and tongue-in-cheek knowing; and the three of them boost the level of eye candy whenever on stage.
Oraine Johnson, (the more obviously street cred’) Tommy, must be every ailurophile’s favourite pantomime cat: pounce-perfect, bling-tastic, Public Enemy-esque, slinkily hypnotic, tutting and gliding Egyptian style into your hearts (that’s apart from when he’s doing a nice turn as the Sultan(a) of Morocco later on complete with a very convincing Idi Amin accent and dancing paunch). And Goodridge’s choreography is immediately apparent in Johnson and Robinson’s first dance duet, as is the quality of her own singing voice slightly later.
O’Brien and Robinson are not too shabby at the ol’ yodelling lark either, and their love ballad duet ‘Your Smile’ is an early sweet harmonies highlight.
Sion Ifan’s King Rat shamelessly revels in his own camp menace (as do we) and raucous bullying. All buccaneer black, a velveted dandy and all round nasty bit of work with a cod laugh and tomb-like burr… he somehow manages to resemble Gary Neville, Dick Turpin (with a tail), and an extra from an ’80s Adam And The Ants video all at the same time.
But as always though, the unseen star of the show is Williams’ sparkling musical score. This time his repertoire contains nods to Tinie Tempah in Johnson’s ‘This is London Town’ and Stock Aitken and Waterman in the pumping and wonderfully ridiculous ‘Disco Cake’, while Richard Howells leads most of the cast (beautifully choreographed again by Goodridge) in a cleverly protracted and ridiculously rollicking sing-a-long sea shanty ‘This is the Life’.
The highlight, however, is undoubtedly the comedy genius that is Williams’ niggly, tinny rap version of ‘Old McDonald’s Farm’ (surely a hit in the making), Dion Davies’ dame brilliantly rapping in a Goldie Looking Chain style Cardiff accent and Nichols joining in the whole shebang like a pensioner whose ovaltine has just been spiked with crack cocaine; one of those ‘worth-the-price-of-admission-on-its-own’ moments. Booooom Shankar!
Nichols is always hilarious, effortlessly never less than top class, clearly enjoying (as do we) the arthritic amorality of his Alderman Fitzwarren, ermined, mercenary and ever so slightly kiffed, occasionally peppering his monologues with you’d-swear-it-was-him Bruce Forsyth impersonations.
Dion Davies’ Sarah the Cook, Dick Whittington’s lusty mum, is, of course, simply fab’las: sassy, brassy and just ever so slightly trashy. Not the least bit surprising since Davis is undisputabley the greatest pantomime dame the world has ever seen, fantastic comedy…timing, huge… energy, always a wonderfully varied and nuanced performance, the heartbeat of the show.
Though, like Ifan’s King Rat, but for different reasons, not someone you’d like to bump into down an after-closing-hours alley. While it’s easy to imagine lovelorn women writing to the dastardly Ifan after the inevitable custodial sentence has been passed, both of these herbets become disturbingly attractive the longer the show goes on.
Sarah the Cook, poor woman, has a helluva time during the panto, first of all coming to London in search of Dick, then thinking, after a traumatic shipwreck, she would never see her little Dick again. However, fortunately for the dame, in the playful hands of writer-director Peter Doran, her son Dick enjoys a very happy ending. Or, as Sarah puts it herself, “Fancy: my little Dick is the Mayor of London.”
The Torch’s ‘Whittington’ is modern yet traditional, spectacular yet intimate, oozing the sort of charm and elusive chemistry big city pantos with their bolt-on celebs can never match. As an 1877 reviewer once put it, “There are sweet sounds for your ears, pretty pictures for your eyes, and no end of comicality to make exactions upon your risible faculties.”

18th - 30 Dec
Photo by Drew Buckley

Reviewed by: Tim Barrett

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