Dick Whittington

Dec 19 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩   Pure panto

Church Hill Theatre: Thurs 18 – Sun 28 Dec 2014

Big on audience participation and packed with boldly bad jokes, Edinburgh People’s Theatre version of Dick Whittington at the Church Hill Theatre to Sunday 28th December, will delight fans of real pantomime.

All the set piece routines, the vulgar jokes and groan-inducing puns, the contemporary references and catchy sing-along numbers are present – and correct.

Alan P Frayn’s script gives a strong, basic telling of the story of Dick who meets up with a talking cat on his way to London, falls in love with Alice Fitzwarren, gets stung for a crime he didn’t commit, schleps over to North Africa by way of a shipwreck and redeems himself by getting rid of all the rats.

Carol Bryce, Anne Mackenzie and Lyzzie Dell. Photo: Rob Fuller

Carol Bryce, Anne Mackenzie and Lyzzie Dell. Photo: Rob Fuller

The first major box ticked by the production comes in the form of Carol Bryce who plays Dick. As principal boy she underplays the role a shade, but has all the thigh-slaps and manly posing down pat. She has a lovely voice too – one which could, perhaps, be used even more.

Sarah Howley is excellent as Alice. She has more singing to do – taking the first solo in the opening of Who Will Buy from Oliver – and generally has that kind of dynamic presence which keeps a scene scorching along whenever she is involved in it. Moreover, the pair make the whole falling-in-love thing work effortlessly.

Of course true pantomime is bigger than its love interest as it pits evil against good. On this front, Lyzzie Dell is a hugely boo-able Queen Rat with magic powers to make her legions of rat followers immune to rat poison, who has plans to overrun London and then take over the world.

Anne Mackenzie represents the forces of good as Fairy Bowbells, out to promote Dick Whittington as the saviour and help him on his way. Some excellent split-stage lighting effects from Robert Fuller ensure the rivalry is intensified – although both could be a shade more dynamic in their movement.

Strangely enough, their sparing brings out one of two jarring notes in the otherwise excellent script, when Fairy Bowbells has to side with the Mayor of London. Given Boris Johnson’s bona fide buffoon status, it feels a shade tricky when she champions him as a force for good.

generously proportioned

There again, the Dick Whittington story always does seem a bit removed when played as pantomime in Scotland – unless the setting is made local, rather than being left in London. In this case, Frayn’s off-the-peg script is firmly London-set. Polished and updated earlier this year, this leaves its couple of references to independence not exactly sure of where they stand.

There’s no doubting the provenance of Iain Frazer’s dame, Dolly Dumpling, the Fitzwarrens’ generously proportioned cook and mother to the hapless Idle Jack. Frazer knows which side his audience is on and makes no misguided attempts to Cockney her up.

Although sometimes not as comfortable with his lines as he might be, Frazer is certainly a very comfortable dame. He dominates the stage when needed but is also generous to the rest of the cast – a necessary ability in a show with 18 named characters.

Mags Swan makes an excellent silly wee boy in the role of Idle Jack. She leads the audience participation from the front, never falling into the trap of trying to force them. It’s a tricky balancing act and it is a real treat to see someone do it as well as she does.

Proper full-on buffoonery falls to Matthew Sielewicz and Graham Bell as Captain Cuttlefish and Scupper, the hapless captain and first mate of the Alderman Fitzwarren’s ship. They are rather too douce, but succeed in getting all the knockabout comedy just right. Including, it must be said, a version of  the Present Arms routine with the mops on board ship.

In that routine they are ably led by Gordon Braidwood as the Alderman. It is something of a straight role, but Braidwood still has a couple of routines to call his own, including some very decent tongue-twisting.

Bev Wright. Photo: Rob Fuller

Bev Wright. Photo: Rob Fuller

Every Dick needs a soft pussy to cuddly up to – and Bev Wright is in full feline mode as Tom, the talking cat who Bowbells magics into existence. Wright is sinuous and tactile in her movement, just slightly superior than anyone she meets – without ever having to say so.

The chorus and dance troupe put in strong and enthusiastic performances too. The young dancers are in particularly good form with a Hornpipe tap routine. While the succession of hits, ancient and modern – yes, it ends with Happy – with their suitably augmented words are all well performed.

Director Mandy Black has done a good job on the show, although there are several scenes where a stronger directorial hand could have made the whole thing ping along a bit faster. While the flow of the scenes – and the integration of the musical numbers – should be a lot smoother.

That said, there is so much here to relish that, while it could do with tightening up by ten minutes, it delivers laughs and seasonal cheers by the bucket-load.

Running time 2 hrs 40 mins.
Church Hill Theatre, 33 Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Thursday 18 – Sunday 28 December 2014
Evenings at 7pm on: Thurs 18, Fri 19, Mon 22, Tue 23 & Sat 27 December.
Matinees at 2.30pm on: Sat 20, Sun 21, Sat 27 and Sun 28 December.
Tickets £10 and £8 (group rates available) from: www.ept.org.uk/boxoffice (small booking fee)


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