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Theatre review: Dick Whittington/ Liverpool Everyman

Phil Key on why even Simon Cowell would find something to love in the latest Dick

Published on December 3rd 2009.


Theatre review: Dick Whittington/ Liverpool Everyman


SOME years ago at the Everyman during a previous incarnation of the pantomime Dick Whittington, the unfortunate actor playing the cat had a bad time of it.

Each time the cat was in grabbing distance of the audience – which is quite often at the Everyman – some kid would grab the tail. By the end of the run, the tail was in a sorry state indeed.

There is not a serious character in the show. The Rat King, bathed in the traditional green light, is all swagger and bravado, Warren Fitzwarren a silly ass in bubbly yellow hair and outrageous clothes

There can be no such worries with this production – the cat has no tail. It’s still a cat as played by Sarah Vezmar , evidenced by two tiny, fluffy ears, but she wears a cat suit rather than a cat costume.

Her character’s name Purdey Cat gives the clue as this is a cat straight from the TV series The New Avengers which featured Joanna Lumley as the all-action crime fighter Purdey.

It’s a typical innovation for an Everyman pantomime where they like to play fast and loose with the panto format.

They may use the basic pantomime plot for the selected story but you will have to dig deep to find where it is. The theatre does not just tweak the tale, or the tail, but often twists it almost out of all recognition.

Dick Whittington – subtitled “Now That’s What I Call Meow-sic” – is a case in point. Here it is flavoured with a touch of Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and a spot of Egyptology. Not to mention The New Avengers and Thunderbirds.

The result is something of a triumph, a fast-paced, music-driven laughter festival that scores high on the energy meter.

The now regular Everyman panto team of Sarah Nixon and Mark Chatterton wrote the script with Chatterton also directing a nine-strong cast of actor-musicians.

Music has always been the show’s strong point, played and sung live by the company within a rock and roll format. In the early days it was pure rock and roll from the 1950s and 1960s but time has moved on and today you get much more modern stuff thrown in.

Here that includes songs by Take That, Oasis, Michael Jackson, Duffy and The Kaiser Chiefs, each dove-tailed into the plot, some easily, some a little awkwardly.

And the plot? Well, we start in Ancient Egypt with a battle between a Rat-God and a Cat-God for control of a magic stone that gives the holder power. The stone – which looks more like an egg – is discovered in the Lost Kingdom 3,000 years later by a Scottish explorer.

It is destined to end up in a London Museum of Curiosities run by Warren Fitzwarren and hopefully save the museum from its current decline.

If this all sounds rather serious, worry not. There is not a serious character in the show. The Rat King bathed in the traditional green light is all swagger and bravado, Warren Fitzwarren a silly ass in bubbly yellow hair and outrageous clothes.

Throw in numerous other daft characters including a man-hungry dame, Dottie Doolittle, a personable Dick Whittington, feisty love interest Scout Fitzwarren and a fairy whose dress lights up (she is named Fairy Lights) and you have all the ingredients of a good night out.

There are the usual groan-worthy jokes (a lion-tamer named Claude Bottom) but the show works more on character, big, loud noisy ones. Adam Keast is a particularly silly Warren Fitzwarren (doubling as an equally absurd red-bearded Scottish explorer) while Francis Tucker storms the stage as Dottie Doolittle.

Sarah Vezmar makes for lively cat with just a touch of poignancy when she appears to lose all nine of her lives and Matthew Quinn finds a nice comic touch in King Rat. Joseph Attenborough and Karen Paullada play Dick and Scout for laughs rather than sentiment.

But all the cast work brightly and as usual play a variety of instruments. It’s strange to see, for example, Nicky Swift moving from Fairy Lights to keyboards and then drums in just a few moments. The music – under music director Tayo Akinbode – is performed wonderfully well.

Nice set too from designer Dinah England who keeps the action on several levels and manages to spring a few surprises. Customers in the front rows might care to take umbrellas when the fountain springs into action, others further back just beware Dottie Doolittle as she runs into the audience brandishing water guns.

There are the usual double entendres, some quite saucy, but which all happily go over the heads of the young ‘uns, at least I hope they do.

You are forced to your feet for a spot of singing-with-movement but it’s all jolly stuff and nothing to get worried about. YMCA is naturally one of the chosen numbers.

This really is a family show. The kids will enjoy the comedy and music while the adults will enjoy, well, the comedy and the music. It is not a pantomime where you feel compartmentalised.

The original story is there for those who want to look for it – Dick goes to London, leaves when falsely accused, but returns to become Lord Mayor. And he gets the girlIndeed, everyone ends up happily.... and that probably includes the audience.

9/10: Cats and cream

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SeanDecember 3rd 2009.

The writers of this show appear to have a great sense of humour and there were even a couple of new tricks. Super panto, but yes, hot in there. I would have liked to have cooled down with a coke from the Tesco on Hope Street, but it's become a Korova bar.

AnonymousDecember 3rd 2009.

Felt a bit sorry for poor Stuart last night.

Wavy GravyDecember 3rd 2009.

Excellent review from the master critic Key! This is exactly as I saw the show last weekend and would highly recommend it. Works brilliantly in that space. Bloody hot in there however.

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