Livestream - Gifted
I’ve seen quite a few pantomimes over the years, and if I’m being honest, I’d gotten quite used to the formula; a classic fairytale, in most cases, the princess and the prince, a dame, the clumsy always the bridesmaid never the bride best friend and the villain. It’s something that we are used to, families go into a pantomime knowing what to expect, and sometimes, these classic pantos can, in my opinion, feel a little tired. Jokes can feel overused, and a soundtrack of popular music from the last year can often feel shoehorned into any fairy tale. But sometimes, you can be surprised by someone doing it differently, and it can feel like a breath of fresh air. Enter Dick Whittington and his cat, the rock and roll panto, presented in this case via livestream by Ipswich’s New Wolsey theatre.
The rock and roll panto, as I have learnt, isn’t a new idea to the New Wolsey, giving pantomime the actor muso treatment with a plethora of fun and catchy numbers, some given a rework to fit the story and some sung as originally intended. Here, Dick Whittington included Parklife, One hand in my pocket, and That’s Life with lyrics cleverly rewritten to fit the characters alongside I need a hero and Walking on sunshine in all their glory. A refreshing change from the normal panto song offerings.
Cat (played by Myles Miller), is in search on an owner, a human who can finally give him a name, and whilst he searches in vain for Ed Sheeran, he instead stumbles upon hitch hiker Dick Whittington (Luke Thornton). He is in search of his fame and fortune, away from Ipswich and towards the bright lights of London, but London is under attack by giant rats, led by the dastardly King Rat (Steve Simmonds). But the magical fairy (Janna May) believes that the bell’s phophecy will come true, and a young man called Dick will save the day. The rats are also causing trouble for cake shop keeper Sarah (Max Kinder) and her daughter Alice (Elizabeth Rowe), can Dick and Cat save them too?
Emily Bestow’s set places the story away from the traditional panto painted backdrops into a brightly technicoloured patchwork with a simple but effective design that puts the actor musicians into the heart of the action. With cast members playing two, if not three, instruments each, this production is a showcase of multi-talent. Elizabeth Rowe’s Alice jumps in and out of musical numbers with her saxophone, King Rat (Simmonds) plays the bass, May’s fairy plays piano and Kinder’s Dame Sarah rocks out on electric guitar, to give just a few examples.
Thornton’s Dick and Miller’s cat are a funny clever double act that has the audience rooting for them from the start, with Rowe’s Alice presented not as the damsel in distress but instead as a girl power icon. Kinder’s Sarah oozes sass and expert comedic timing, joining in with the action instead of simply being the heart of the comedy. Simmond’s King Rat delights in getting boos from the audience with his rock and roll style and May’s fairy with sugar sweet with smiles and giggles, whilst May also gains many a laugh as a pirate in the second act.
Whilst this production gives pantomime a refreshing new spin, there are elements that provide a taste of tradition as well, after all, would it really be a panto if it didn’t have the classic ‘he’s behind you’, ‘We’ll have to do it again then won’t we woo!’, water pistols and audience interaction, all of which the cast deliver with fun and energy.
The New Wolsey’s Dick Whittington and his Cat is fun and frivolous, full of colour and comedy. It’s music filled rock and roll style with the cast playing their own instruments throughout gives the production a real punch of attitude and sass, making it stand out from the pantomime crowd.