Theatre reviewer, Polly, provides this review of The Nomads 2017 pantomime, Dick Whittington & his cat
“Think Christmas and at some point you will think panto. It is about as much part of our British Christmas as Carols from King’s College and the Queen’s Speech. This kind of iconic position brings with it a certain expectation, of course. It is an uniquely British form of theatre and we have a formula which must be adhered to or it’s not a panto! The story is usually a fairy or traditional tale, there is always a baddie, there is always a goodie, there is always a lot of singing and dancing, there is some very obvious, groaningly obvious humour, a lot of double entendres to keep the parents awake, pyrotechnics if you can and huge spectacle especially in the last scene. I have not mentioned, of course, the audience participation. This is as formulaic as are the plots. The phrases such as “He’s/it’s
behind you!” or a particular phrase given us by one of the “helpful” characters; the panto dame always played by a man and the Principal Boy is always played by a woman. You have to be British to understand any of it. Perhaps something like cricket?
So the expectation is high, but in the Nomad’s production of Dick Whittinton and his cat, they didn’t miss a trick. The programme itself promised a very high standard of things to come. Starting from the bottom, at least in height, I have to say that the young ratlets (Patrick Anderson, Ori Carr-Stein, Eden Garland, Amelia Tang and Ethan Tang) were terrific and the very youngest dancers were a delight. The choreographer, Samantha Potten did sterling work preparing her chorus of dancers (Alice Burgess, Caitlin Byrne, Ciara Byrne, Abigail Darke, Emily Davey, Amelia Potten, Katherine Warr, Sienna Wayland, Charlotte Weller and Francesca Woof.) I especially loved the more taxing and very difficult point work shown us by the older dancers. To top off the dancing, we had a panto dame, Sarah the Cook, played by Michael Ayres, who joined in the tap routine. Wonderful.
Tap dancing wasn’t the only thing that the Dame was good at. ‘She’ spoke with great clarity, though some of the jokes might have benefitted from a little more exaggeration, but his/her make-up was wonderful. “Her” son Idle Jack played by Millie Jane Franks was a wonderfully drawn character, with hugely exaggerated facial expression and physical movement. It was “he” (another girl playing a chap!) who led the audience participation.
She put huge energy into getting us to respond standing up and repeating a little routine each time she came on. We were not a very good audience as we were a bit lazy about getting up and speaking the lines we had been
given. Speaking for myself, I was heavy with cold and recovering from ‘flu so getting up every two minutes did not get my vote, but that was just me. I’m sure with a slightly younger audience especially, there would have been no difficulty and Jack really did deserve more help than we gave her!
Dick Whittington (Sophie Johnstone) spoke with great confidence and commitment and was a suitably glamorous and character. Dick and Alice had some very enjoyable duet and solo moments and between them kept the central story theme on track. They were an engaging couple.
Alice Fitzwarren (Sasha Plaché) was a very lovely young leading lady and she obviously enjoyed her role which communicated itself well to the audience. She obviously had her father, Alderman Fitzwarren (Iain Watson) in the palm of her hand as he quickly agreed to allow Dick to join the crew of his last surviving ship. The Alderman came across as an affable chap, who took his bad luck in his stride. He was kindly too to his officer in charge, Captain Cuttle played by Jeffrey Wightwick. Cuttle made good use of the silliness
when trying to call the crew to some order and made a significant contribution over all.
Bit parts are the real fun of panto. You get to be there almost all the time but don’t have to worry too much about lines and Colin Barnard and Joshua Locke made full use of their
moments as the Arabs, the Sailors and in the general ensemble. King Neptune (Ricky Powell) in the beautiful underwater kingdom scene where we also met a delightful mermaid, played by Tilly Winford, was also a bit part well developed and delivered.
Another high spot was the scene in the harem. Fabulous colours and sinuous choreography. The Sultan of Morocco (Richard Peachey) was every inch the part and gave us a lovely bit of singing although we could have done with a facemike at some moments. Nevertheless the scene was visually splendid and we enjoyed the sultan’s contribution .
The “baddies” are what really make a panto and gives us the excuse to boo and hiss to our hearts content at their every entry. Gnashfang (Lisa Arnold) and Gnawbone (Johnny Diamond) were wonderfully evil and their immediate boss, King Rat (Daniel Shepherd) was truly superb. His performance was suitably horrible and very well sustained.
In contrast to his nastiness, another must of panto is the Good Fairy Bow Bells (Hayley Clines) whose fluency and well pointed and delivered lines had us all enthralled. A
There is one supremely obvious omission in all this comment, and that is of Tommy, Dick’s faithful and hugely intelligent and clever cat which is pivotal to the progress of the story. Tommy was played by Karolina Sepiak and what a great job she made of it. There was total engagement throughout and her catlike movements were sustained at all times, but her real moment of glory came during Dick’s solo when she used the stage to its fullest extent and gave a terrific dance/gymnastic display, moments of which were absolutely jaw dropingly supple and a joy to watch.
The scenes and costumes, always spectacularly good at the Nomads, were glorious. This was, over all, excellent ensemble playing, each player supporting the others and matching each other’s commitment to the success of the evening.
I had one or two issues with the general pace of the piece, but in the following performances I’m sure the actors will have bedded in to their performances as general confidence grows. The other slight grouse I should mention is that one has grown to expect that when there is an obvious joke in panto, one expects a “boom tish!” from percussion. That wasn’t quite as obvious, to my mind, as it might have been. The band, directed by Gareth Alber, however, were otherwise a great asset to the performance and provided sympathetic
support to the singing. One further niggle is that perhaps the flys could have been just a shade faster.
I am not usually a huge fan of pantos, but I really did enjoy this performance. The director, Andrew Hamel-Cooke and his army of back stage “beavers” such as lighting, props, stage manager to name but a few, are to be congratulated in bringing together so many players to produce such a great evening. We must remind ourselves that these are all people who give freely of their time to present us with high quality, local entertainment throughout the year. Thank you all. Your efforts are much appreciated.”