Dick Whittington by Norman Robbins: Jan 2016

Review by Anonymous

Shepperton Players chose for their biennial panto the path less trodden in selecting Dick Whittington.

I must admit that this was not a story that I was over familiar with and had not realised that it was indeed a story that had been written into a Pantomime. In true Shepperton players style however they did not disappoint, this was a truly fabulous production with all the key elements that a good traditional panto should have. Under the keen eye and leadership of Director Derek Stringer and Assistant Director Alex Stringer and the talents of the actors this was by far one of the best panto’s that I have seen at Riverside in recent years and has restored this critic’s faith in the Panto genre. Derek and Alex clearly had a vision in mind when they set out on this adventure and I am sure they must be very pleased with the outcome, and if they’re not then they should be. I attended the Sat afternoon performance and the audience both young and old enjoyed themselves, with many chatting and laughing about the show in the coffee area (at the interval) about how much they had enjoyed the first half, and anticipating what they 2nd half had in store. Now to the actors.. Oh no …let’s make them wait a little longer as they are only a fraction of the team that pulled together to put this show on.

Colin Lewis, Dave Doubble and the rest of the Meerkats Band were a joy and an asset to this Panto, they were both entertaining to listen to but also watch, however I do feel at times that perhaps the balance of the volume of the piano and singers was not quite right as on some occasions the piano was far louder than the singers and sound was slightly distorted, this perhaps is an area to look at for next time, overall all a stunning musical performance from the Band and their leaders. Clearly Colin and Dave worked hard on selecting, arranging and in some cases composing music, I know that Colin rehearsed regularly with the singers and dancers, and without this dedicated contribution the panto would not have felt as well-rounded and complete as the finished article did.

(Dancing, I will come back to this part a little later on). Firstly to the set, overall again a great effort and Ron Millinger should be very proud, taking us from the streets of London to “up on deck” to the palaces of Morocco, plenty to keep the stage crew busy! The London Skyline was a masterpiece although at times I felt it got a little lost so perhaps a splash of colour or perhaps different lighting would have improved this as several people failed to notice it initially. The other sets were of the usual tremendous standard and a lot of work had clearly gone into them, I especially liked the ship, and the complex arrangement of collapsing mast, sails etc in the shipwreck. If I had one quibble it would be the outside of the shop – it felt a little unfinished and I think perhaps a street lamp or further door ways to give the impression of a street would have added to the “streets paved with gold” but there was already plenty of set to manoeuver, so maybe it’s a step too far.. Overall a great set though. The lighting effects where as ever outstanding, I have seen several shows that Jon Hart has been in charge of lighting (with Shepperton players and other groups) and he never fails to deliver. I particularly liked the rapid change on lights for King Rat and Fairy Bo bells. Well done Jon another epic performance. Of course Jon was not alone in the gallery and he was ably supported on Spot by Katharine Lewis good work Mrs Lewis. Sound effects where also a pivotal part of the performance and in particular the voices of the bells was very ghostly, clearly a lot of work went into the perfect blend of bells and voices and it had the right effect on the audience and good old Dick. Well done to Rachel and Stephen Millinger for a great performance you make a good sound team.  Costumes as always when I see the names Pat Champion and Chantal Suppanee in the programme , were spot on everyone looked wonderful in their colourful yet fitting for the time period. Large cast, and multiple changes make Panto the biggest costume challenge in the year, well done ladies another perfect fit!!!!!

Now one quibble on the time period, I know its panto and you are supposed to just go with it but a little bug bear of mine during the performance was the jumping to and forth between time frames, one moment you have cast telling us that its 400 years ago and they are waiting for credit cards to be invented and then you have members of the cast breaking an iPad it’s not a major issue but as an audience member I did find it distracting (perhaps it’s just my OCD kicking in!!!!).

So now to the cast and I would like to say a very big well done to Kathryn Cameron Webb, not only did she do an outstanding job teaching and organising all the children (who by the way stole the show – in the hard knock life song especially one young lady who got so involved in the mopping she forgot that she had to move to the side melted this old cynics heart for sure) but Kathryn also gave an amazing performance as Tommy the cat – her movement and facial expressions where amazing and the children who were sat behind me cheered loudly every time she appeared on stage, well done Kathryn a truly admirable performance and fabulous choreography. So now to the chorus who looked like they were having a fabulous time on stage, a great performance by each and every one of you so well done to Emma, Belinda, Keith, Sally and Fred, a welcome debut from Freddie, who was excellent in the old bazaar song and dance routine and made the most of his other all-too-brief appearances – his facial expressions were out of this world and he never once let his character slip. Hope to see more of him in future.

Vicki Prince had a tough part to play in the panto, usually the part of the fairy is quite an interactive role that allows you to be able to build up a rapport with the audience, however not in this particular panto. It seems that the part of fairy was written in as an afterthought and at one point I had almost forgotten that there was a fairy until she magically appeared again to help Dick listen to the enchanted bells – this role would be a tricky one for any actress and Vicki did it with sparkle and style as you might expect from a Fairy of her calibre. Ron Millinger – not only building a great set – also gave us King Rat the gruesome villain in our story. Again I felt that this particular panto he was not given enough air time so to speak, Ron however made good use of the time he did have on stage and the children were booing and hissing every time he appeared. A stellar job Ron well done. As these were ethereal characters outside of the corporeal world around them, it would have been nice to have placed them separately, but space limitations meant it wasn’t possible to place them in front of stage, so the director had to manage with lighting changes.  Richard Fordyce was a convincing Alderman, playing the straight man to the comic characters all around him, and I felt that it was most fitting that the tight fisted shop owner had a Scottish accent!!! Well done Richard a great performance.

So now to possibly the funniest duo since Morecambe and Wise, shepperton players gives us Blackie and Tibbits. Idle Jack and Sarah the Cook had audiences in pieces (not always due to the script but their ad libbing) they had a winning chemistry on the stage and both looked like they thoroughly enjoyed working together. The looks they gave each other when they had gone wrong was funnier than some of the jokes written in the script, these two should consider stand up as Idle Jack and Sarah, great performance and great legs Mr Tibbits. And each joke accompanied by a different and perfectly timed whistle,toot,honk or cymbal crash from the extensive array of percussion, courtesy of the excellent Nick Handel.

Although one comment on the casting of Jack & Sarah – just to say that when it was first intimated that they were a couple, indeed considering marriage, there were gasps from the audience. I think that the age gap may have stretched credulity slightly.

Captain Port and First Mate Starboard were yet another hilarious double act normally a show will have one or two funny characters who have great comic timing and chemistry but this one had an abundance of it, these two gave us amazing, singing and also physical comedy which is very hard to get right but these two got it spot on well done you pair you should be very proud and you can crew my ship anytime. The mop drill scene was a highlight of the play.

Before I move on to the two principals I would like to just say a big well done to Belinda, Emma and Keith who did themselves proud in their parts, I found the scene with the Cannibal hilarious. Belinda’s facial expression was a wonderful mix of menace and comedy. A favourite moment of the panto for me was the scene with the sultana and the vizier – when Keith offered up the last apple in Morocco and Emma broke down because the rats had stolen it, a little girl next to me asked her mum if they could buy her another one so she would stop crying… classic moment, but also a sign that the cast on stage were taking the audience with them on every step of the journey. You all made really good use of your parts and should all be very proud.

So to the principles, Dick & Alice.

Carrie played Dick Whittington in the best pantomime tradition of female playing a thigh-slapping young man. Her interactions with Tommy the Cat were beautifully done, and the script left the burden of all the dialogue on her while Tommy remained mute. I have seen Carrie in several productions and I must admit that this young actress has truly blossomed into a wonderful performer and who knew she had such a strong voice with a deep rich tone, I am not sure if this was a role that Miss Millinger has always wanted but she certainly gave it her all and provided us with a very likeable hero. Abigail again had a beautiful voice and was a perfect compliment to Dick. The only advice that I would give is that when you lose your line or say something the wrong way round try not to corpse and come back to your part as soon as you can. Saying that she gave a beautiful performance and should be very proud, I am sure that this is not the last we have seen of this young lady.

Well done shepperton players this was a wonderful panto and you maintained all the traditions of panto, live music, lots of silliness, jokes that are not always completely politically correct, and a cast clearly enjoying themselves and happy to wander off script occasionally. Heart-stopping for the director and prompt, but the audience were delighted!