Howard Coggins as the Dame and Jeff Nicholson as King Neptune. Pic: Manuel Harlan

Dick Whittington & His Cat

13th December 2008

If it’s December, it must be pantomime at the Watford Palace Theatre…

Jill Glenn tests the audience response.

This year, with a clever nod to the Palace’s centenary, writer and director Joyce Branagh has chosen to set the piece exactly one hundred years ago. The story begins as our hero, young Dick Whittington, arrives outside the Palace Theatre (cue lots of local references), acquires Tommy the Cat and heads off to London to seek his fortune.

Liza Pullman as Fairy Bow Bells. Pic: Manuel Harlan

There’s an instant energy as the curtains rise; bright lights, rhythm – the audience (mostly adults, this being a midweek evening performance) are clapping along within seconds. The set and the props are superb; the lighting well judged, and the music choices calculated to appeal to a wide range of ages.

This is, on the whole, a suitably riotous production, although there are also some lower key, makeweight moments, when the story drifts. Dick Whittington has one of the more convoluted panto storylines, with a good proportion of the action taking place underwater (not a noted factor in the life of the real Richard Whittington, fourteenth century fortune hunter…). There’s also a phenomenal amount of cross-dressing (ditto). I did wonder how much of this complicated plot was going over the head of younger audience members, although those who were there seemed suitably over-excited by the whole experience, with one small boy giggling uncontrollably from start to finish.

The team on stage create a great sense of camaraderie and pure fun. I thought Tom Bradley as the hapless hero a little flat at times, but Tommy the Cat is played with great panache by the irrepressible Dale Superville. On the side of the baddies Peter Holdway as King Rat is amusing rather than truly scary, while his sidekick Nat the Rat bounces around like a particularly annoying children’s television presenter.

Pantomime as a concept really is quite bizarre, though… I was struck, part-way through the second half, by the realisation of quite how ridiculous this was as a way of spending an evening – but if you’re looking for some feelgood factor this festive season, then you might just turn to Dick, Dame Sarah, King Neptune and co. And the Cat, of course.

Dick Whittington & His Cat continues until 3 January
at Watford Palace Theatre: 01923 225671

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