Dick Whittington at The Orchard Theatre, Dartford.
I was lucky enough to attend Dick Whittington on the 15th December, which is the Orchard Theatres pantomime offering this year. The Orchard has really ticked all of the panto boxes this year, it revels in the traditional pantomime gags and meets expectations of the seasoned panto goer whilst managing to present to the audience something new and exciting.
Dick Whittington tells of Dick’s task to save London from the rat infestation and from King Rat in particular. This journey takes him to the seas and eventually to Morrocco where Dick has to save his love Alice from the clutches of the Sultan as well as King Rat.
One the expectations of the above mentioned seasoned panto goer is the star turn and in Dick Whittington Shane Richie plays the title character. Shane Richie is clearly an experienced panto performer – managing to appeal to the children with his physical humour and slapstick gags and to the adults with a knowing wink with some of the jokes. He throws himself into this role 100% and is a natural in the part with his ad libs being some of the funniest parts of the show. The panto at times does feel like the Shane Richie show with Dick rarely being off stage for more than a few moments. As a result some of the other characters get sidelined and I would have liked them to have been given a chance to shine a bit more.
The rest of the cast manage to live up to Shane’s high standards, in particular Phil Hitchcock as Alderman Fitzwarren who brings a ‘magical’ element to the show which leaves the whole audience wondering just how he performs the tricks. King Rat is played by Pete Gallagher who uses his tail as a whip to great effect and prowls around the auditorium and stage alike making a great pantomime baddy. At times I would have liked him to whip the audience up into a bit more of a frenzy with the boos.
Ashleigh Gray was the Spirit of the Bells and performed this role perfectly with her softly spoken demeanor and ever present smile being the antithesis to Gallagher’s King Rat. She however is one of the characters that was under used judging by her previous performance experience and whilst she had a nice duet the audience was more focused on the magic being performed by Phil Hitchcock at the time.
Malcolm Lord was the Dame of the panto, or in particular Mrs Sarah Fitzwarren. Malcolm was the champion of the more adult humour and the inevitable gags that follow from the lead characters name….the adults in the audience loved him for it. Danielle Corlass was Dick’s love interest Alice Fitzwarren who at times was slightly too softly played for my taste and could have bounced off Shane Richie slightly more.
The selling point of Dick Whittington however has to be the technical side of things. At the end of Act 1 you are confronted with the kraken, a legendary sea monster which takes up the majority of the stage with its head appearing to come out over the front few rows of the audience. This visual effect combined with the sound effects and lighting makes for a memorable end of the act and an interesting departure from the usual big song and dance. The technical side ups the ante further in act 2 with a UV puppetry number opening the act and moving swiftly onto the 3D section of the show. This is hugely impressive and I found myself genuinely ducking out of the way of sharks and other sea creatures flying towards me whilst laughing hysterically at how silly I am to be doing so.
The pantomime is also very well written. The jokes were varied and there was a nice balance between the classic gags and new material. The scenes were always fast moving giving the audience something new and visually exciting to look at whether that be a set change into a new location, more glittery costumes or live animals onstage.
I really enjoyed how the Orchard have managed to work the more modern technical effects into a traditional pantomime and it made me feel that this was a panto that was relevant for today’s audience but yet still retains the traditional pantomime charm.
A word of warning however is that if you child is very young or easily scared this may not be the best pantomime for them but for all other children, young and old this is the panto to see this season.
Tickets for the show can be brought here.