Dick Whittington

Hexagon Theatre, 6 December 2008 – 4 January 2009

Reviewed for the Maidenhead Advertiser, 11 December 2008 edition

This year’s Hexagon panto did nearly everything right. Unfortunately, the few things it did wrong nearly ruined it.

Dick Whittington is a great choice of panto to stage this year. It’s all about finding, losing and regaining your fortune in London, so there were plenty of opportunities for jokes about the credit crunch.

The sets, from Gloucester to London to Morocco, were bold and colourful with a comic-book look. So were the many costumes worn by the dame, Sarah the Cook (Tim Hudson) – some nearly qualified as sets themselves.

Hudson’s double act with Sarah’s workshy helper Idle Jack (Nathan Guy) was the highlight of the show, especially in the scenes aboard the good ship Saucy Sal. Guy put his experience working with children in CBeebies’ Lazy Town Live to excellent use – he built a strong rapport with the young audience.

But throughout the first act nearly the whole company had problems with their comic timing. They threw away some great punchlines without waiting for a response, and the resulting lack of laughs drained nearly all the energy from the performance.

Luckily the pace picked up for Act Two, and they all lived nearly happily ever after.

Also reviewed for the Oxford Times, 25 December 2008 edition

Dick Whittington certainly feels like the right pantomime for this year. The message – that even the lowliest country boy can find fame and fortune – speaks to the same vainly optimistic streak as reality television; and the collapse of Alderman Fitzwarren’s business, following a rash investment and an unexpected shipwreck, suddenly seems uncannily reminiscent of a certain international economic crisis.

So the Proper Panto Company are clearly onto something by staging it as this year’s Hexagon show. Yet they come within inches of throwing that potential away.

Comic timing for panto is not difficult to grasp. You build up the gag, then deliver the punchline straight out to the audience, nice and loud, and gesture so the boys and girls know they’re meant to laugh. Yet throughout Dick Whittington’s first act punchline after punchline whizzes by, mumbled as an almost inaudible aside or cut off so quickly by the next line that there’s no time to react.

The resultant bewildered lack of laughter saps energy and pace from the show, making it feel flat and, in places, forced.

In fairness, this is an issue that will probably work itself out after a few more performances – just in time for Christmas.

In the meantime it’s up to the dame, Sarah the Cook (Tim Hudson) and her unhelpful helper Idle Jack (Nathan Guy) to regain the audience’s attention, which they do with aplomb. Guy is particularly skilled at engaging the little ones, informed no doubt by his role in CBeebies’ Lazy Town Live, while Hudson’s man-eating Sarah provides some risqué comedy for the grown-ups.

Even celebrity audience magnet Christina Baily, best known as Danni Carbone in Hollyoaks, seems at least to be giving it her all as Dick; though she is consistently flat throughout her musical numbers. Isn’t the Principal Boy traditionally the one member of a panto cast that can act straight and sing in tune?

Written by Christopher Lillicrap

Crew includes Samantha Hughes (director), Nicola Miles (choreographer/assistant director), Christopher Lillicrap (producer/writer) and Simon Walters (musical director/arranger)

Cast includes John Altman (King Rat), Christina Baily (Dick Whittington), Nathan Guy (Idle Jack), Tim Hudson (Sarah the Cook), Samantha Hughes (Fairy Bowbells), Guy Siner (Alderman Fitzwarren) and Nicola Weeks (Alice Fitzwarren)

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