Review: Brilliant and beautiful Dick Whittington at Chipping Norton Theatre sets the standard yet again
Let’s face it, with most pantos we’re on familiar ground, no matter what the story. You have the innocent lovers, and the dastardly villains, you have the Dame and her outrageous costumes and risqué jokes. You have some slapstick, usually with food and water. You have colour, you have children, you have songs, you have audience participation.
Not quite so at Chipping Norton’s 50th anniversary pantomime, Dick Whittington. You have all the above, plus a witty script that goes beyond the usual to provide an evening of theatre that’s as good for adults as it is for children. Chippy’s panto is an institution in itself, the panto’s panto, the one, for my money, against which all others are measured.
The plot departs a little from the traditional Dick Whittington. Dick (Gregor Duncan) and his cat Whittington (Nadia Sash) flee the land of Albion where Madame Rat (Ada Campe, aka Naomi Paxton) has banished all cats. They come to London but find it hard to make their way. They are given work at the house of the famous explorer Horace (Gareth Cooper) and his lovely daughter Alice (Megan-Hollie Robertson) and their madcap cook Sal M’Nella (Andrew Pepper). Of course, Dick falls for Alice. But Horace wants to search for the land of Petiti where vast riches are to be found. So does Madame Rat. They all make their way, via shipwreck, and there find themselves at the mercy of the Contessa (Evie James), who is seduced by a giant cake.
With me so far? Never mind. The plot is but a hook on which to hang the gags and the scenes and costumes. And there are some of the funniest ones I've ever seen. Sal plays Whack-a-Mole with the saucepans while baking a pie under the guidance of old-school radio shows. The synchronised swimming scene had me in stitches. The magnificent Contessa’s full-blown pink confection and her ill-fated Petiti’s Sweetie Treaty. The delightful Pippins. Whittington’s witty mimes. Madame Rat’s delicious devilry. Horace’s hearty bravado. I could go on.
There is certainly something magical in this celebratory pantomime which will give pleasure to all. It’s brilliant, its beautiful, and it's the best bauble on my Christmas tree.
Dick Whittington runs until January 15. Book at chippingnortontheatre.com