Dick Whittington – New Wimbledon Theatre
(Seen at the afternoon preview performance on 10th December 2016).
After the severe shock of Jared Christmas 2015 (vile, obnoxious little man, may he never disgrace the Wimbledon – or any pantomime – stage again); I’m overjoyed to report that for 2016 the New Wimbledon panto team are back on form, delivering the finest traditional panto possible, and then some.
We know we are in safe hands as the curtain goes up on a magnificently colourful “I Want to Dance With Somebody,” and Grace Chapman (Alice Fitzwarren) demonstrates a belting voice to go with the looks and charm required of a proper panto leading lady.
Arlene Phillips (Fairy Bowbells) and Matt Harrop (King Rat) make a poetic start on the story. Harrop’s beautifully judged timing gives us the perfect rat to boo for the rest of the show, while Phillips grows in confidence with every line – later delivering a highlight that has the whole theatre joining in, and loving it.
The first comedy spot follows. In place of the horrific self-aggrandising moaning of Mr Christmas 2015 (that had the theatre in shocked silence as festive spirit bled out of every door), joker genius Tim Vine (Idle Jack) makes a triumphant punning return from an “away game” (you have to be there). Mr Vine ensures that there isn’t a dry seat in the house, and, has the audience begging for more.
Likewise, panto regular Matthew Kelly (Sarah The Cook) does her solo stuff brilliantly as always (and the frocks, my dear, the frocks!) and better still finds a perfect foil in Mr Vine, their duo surely something Wimbledon’s producers should contract annually for the foreseeable future.
As title character, Sam Hallion (Dick Whittington) is lucky enough to pair with not one, but two special people. First, Indi-Jay Cammish (Tommy The Cat), his faithful friend. Cammish’s third time in the role, and it shows. Gymnast extraordinaire, mime artist, able to make her single “meow” carry meaning alone or as a whole rhyme, her every moment on stage is a pleasure.
Second, the already mentioned Ms Chapman ensures that the pairing are not only a stunningly attractive couple, but also well attuned, with voices blending and some highly believable acting too (I suspect a “showmance” for sure, here – another panto tradition upheld, if true). Paul Baker (Alderman Fitzwarren / Sultan) should be happy at the match – and if not, he is regal enough to do something about it… if he survives the terrible grape jokes in act 2 every night, that is…
Worthy of mention are the ensemble – Paige Albery, Rethea Coles, Daisy Darville, George Ioannides, Kamen Knight, Ella Kora, Ethan Tanner and Rhys West, who fill the stage with precision dance and some decent background comedy too. Also not forgetting the Juveniles – Blue Team from Doris Holford Stage School at this performance, who ensure “Never Forget” is an uplifting sequence in the second half (once they have finished loading the ship, of course).
Yes, this time Eric Potts is back on form with his interlacing of classic routines and topical one-liners (Trump and Southern rail – the latter obviously the bane of Ms Chapman’s life, going by her hand signal) and fascinating older material “Turn Again Whittington” and “The Lambeth Walk,” that the youngsters in the audience found as enchanting today as their elders did when first performed.
The whole is ably directed by Ian Talbot once again, with Mal Maddock and Steve Power ensuring the music flowed and Aaron Renfree filling David Howe’s glowing stage with dance energy.
Fabulous clean family fun, the audience buzzing and the feeling lasting right through the season. If you can get a ticket (there really are not many left), turn again to Wimbledon, where the stage is paved with gold.
Photographer credit: Darren Bell. Used by kind permission of the New Wimbledon Theatre.
And on that festive note, thanks for reading in 2016, and it’s time for a break. Hopefully, I’ll see you in 2017, back on the 18th January. Merry Christmas to Christian readers, and a Happy New Year to all.