Bright neon strips of alternating green and pink lighting framing the stage at Aberdare’s Coliseum Theatre, tell the audience that we are about to experience a modern twist on the classic pantomime, Dick Whittington. Of course, all the traditional ingredients are there in abundance: dashing lead, his stalwart sidekick, beautiful love interest, the good fairy, the boo-hiss baddie, comedy dame, and a cast of all singing all dancing characters.
Dick and his cat Tom are in London town, looking to make their fortune, but the Rat King and his entourage have other ideas! Will the Fitzwarrens stay loyal to their new friend? Will Dick have to leave London and go back to Gloucester knowing that everyone in the capital thinks he is a thief (though he’s given the advice of going to Cardiff where he will apparently blend in without a problem!)? Will love ultimately blossom?
Richard Tunley’s script is full of rib-tickling jokes that appeal to both young and old, taking reference from popular culture, playing along with valleys stereotypes and even including a passing reference to a world leader or two! The auditorium erupted with guffaws and hoots of joy throughout, with plenty of opportunities arising to make full use of the comedy value of the central character’s name, as well as a running joke about the council’s inability to collect the rubbish on time. It is all fun and recognisably up to date, jovial stuff.
Di Botcher’s Fairy (Aunty) Bowbells plays perfectly on her fantastic comic timing and acerbic wit. She is splendid in her “whatchamacallits”. Lee Gilbert’s vocally rich King Rat, brilliantly lit by Craig ‘Flash’ Bridgeman in neon green, is suitably Machiavellian, throwing snot-based insults at the children in the crowd. Frank Vickery’s Sarah the Cook sashays wittily around in magnificent costumes by Lloyd Llewellyn Jones (his A-Z dress is superbly informative with tube stop signs emblazoned in key places and his bounteous Morrocan-inspired costume is another highlight). Vickery plays the pantomime dame with gusto, with one “they’re behind you”-packed ghost-hunting scene a favourite with the younger members of the audience (“I don’t want to be grabbed by the ghosties and I certainly don’t want to be grabbed by the ghoulies”).
Of distinct note is the quality of singing displayed by the cast, particularly by Dick Whittington himself, played by a very likeable and charming Maxwell James. His rendition of “I will Go the Distance” would not be out of place on a West End stage. Ryan Owen’s Tommy the Cat, not only has nine lives but plenty of talents too (including a great Louis Walsh impersonation). A tap dancing duet with John Tudor’s Alderman Fitzwarren is a lovely nod to the silver-haired patrons in the theatre. Joanne Lucas’ Alice Fitzwarren is the quintessentially agreeable pantomime heroine, well matched as it happens to her hero.
Ensemble parts are played with versatility by Andrew Phillips and Jennifer Ruth-Adams, with crowd scenes entertainingly choreographed by Bridie Smith and starring an enthusiastic TakepArt Crew of local talent, who dance to a number of this year’s big pop hits.
Musical direction by Stephen Preston (with live music by Jon Powell and Keiran Bailey), technical and sound effects by Robert Jones and a time-honoured hand painted set by Rainbow Valley Productions, contribute to a slick and highly entertaining show. It is always fun to watch a cast enjoy themselves on stage and to see performers react unflinchingly to unexpected moments of chaos and mischief. The “Twelve Days of Christmas” scene provides this in abundance and is a must watch in itself.
RCT’s Dick Whittington runs until December 14th at The Coliseum, Aberdare before transferring to the Park and Dare, Treorchy from December 18-24th.