Original songs, chocolate, and dick jokes – I call that a successful 50th pantomime for The Theatre Chipping Norton.
For those who want a few more details, the story starts in Albion where Madame Rat is banning cats and being awful. The role sees cabaret performer Ada Campe making her panto debut. Her voice is raspy – fitting a baddie – but it carries to the back row, as she comically conveys the rat’s stupidity.
Dick (Gregor Duncan) and his cat, Whittington (Nadia Shash) turn up in search of a better life. They take shelter in the home of Alice (Megan-Hollie Robertson) and her father, Horace (Gareth Cooper). Andrew Pepper returns to Chippy panto as Sal M’Nella, Horace’s cook, surely one of the best things about this Dick Whittington. A true pro, he’s at the heart of the show’s most memorable scenes – for example, the brilliant cake baking with horse poo segment.
Added to which, he’s an instant treat with each new entrance, thanks to costume designer Maryna Gradnova and the production’s team of makers.
The theatre’s artistic director, John Terry works gorgeously terrible jokes into the script, as well as panto traditions like sweet throwing and a synchronised swimming bit that furthers the story in no way at all – yet still feels oddly essential. One of my favourite lines, however, could have been added in during dress rehearsals. On exiting the stage, Gareth Cooper’s Horace says “we best take these rocks with us” in order to clear the space for the following scene – funny and inventive.
Against Pip Leckenby’s fun and inspiring set designs, a small and strong cast (completed of course by four of Chippy panto’s famous Pippins and an energetic Evie James playing several parts) whirl us from Albion to Petiti and back, in this Abigail Anderson-directed delight.
Dick Whittington is at The Theatre Chipping Norton until 15 January
Photography © tomalinlightworks.com