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Dick Whittington

Published by: Steve Burbridge on 11th Dec 2011 | View all blogs by Steve Burbridge


Dick Whittington

The Tyne Theatre & Opera House

‘Three things are required at Christmas time; Plum Pudding, Beef and Pantomime; Folks could resist the former two; Without the latter none could do.’

Times may have changed since the above rhyme appeared on an old pantomime handbill, but sentiments haven’t and pantomime remains an integral and essential part of Christmas for many families and theatres across the country. Indeed, for many theatres, the panto is their lifeblood – it is what keeps them afloat financially for the rest of the year. For me, personally, a trip to see ‘the Geordie pantomime’ at the resplendent Tyne Theatre & Opera House, a Grade 1 listed theatre, situated in the heart of Newcastle, is as much a part of Christmas as turkey and all the trimmings.

The Newcastle Panto Company have brought their traditional brand of pantomime to the venue, annually, for a number of years now and audiences return in their droves, each festive season, to see stalwarts including ‘Maxie & Mitch’, Kevin O’Keefe, Charlie Richmond and Catherine McCabe do what they do best – make people laugh.

This year’s production of Dick Whittington brings together the familiar faces and introduces a couple of new ones. As usual, writer and director Brendan Healy has ensured that the show ticks all the right boxes: beautifully detailed sets and scenery; colourful costumes; comedy capers; Geordie dialects and references; boy meets girl; romance and adventure; good triumphing over evil, etc, etc. However, the winning formula has been somewhat changed and, as a result, the show suffers slightly because of it.

As usual, Billy Mitchell (Long John Slavver) and Max Peters (Captain Scuttle) are the comedy double-act that audiences know and love. Yet, without Kevin O’Keefe’s Dame to bounce off, they seem slightly disconcerted. Instead, we have Terry Joyce (making his pantomime debut as Bessie the Cook) serving up more irksome impressions than culinary cuisine and demonstrating a total unsuitability for the part, whilst Kevin O’Keefe is relegated to the dual role of Alderman Fitzwarren and The Sultan of Morocco – both of which are thankless parts, limiting him considerably.

Charlie Richmond retains the role of the simple sidekick, this year playing Idle Jack to Catherine McCabe’s principal boy, and he displays a great rapport with the children who are brought on stage towards the end of the show. Samantha Phyllis Morris, as Alice Fitzwarren, plays principal girl for a second consecutive year and does exactly what the role requires of her – looks attractive, sings sweetly and swoons over Dick Whittington.

Jayne Mackenzie (who was last with the company in Aladdin, two years ago) returns as a campy-vampy Queen Rat and, despite being the strongest singer in the cast, tends to deliver her dialogue with such volume that one might think she intended it to be heard in the auditorium of the Theatre Royal. Resident choreographer Emily Swan also plays possibly the most rewarding of all ‘skin’ parts, Moggie the Cat.

There’s no doubt that this particular version of Dick Whittington has all the hallmarks of a great pantomime, provided that some attention is given to certain scenes. With a bit of tightening here and a spot of trimming there, I’m sure that the Newcastle Panto Company will be back on top form faster than you can say ‘Ship Ahoy!’

Steve Burbridge.

Dick Whittington runs until 2 January 2012.




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