Review and pictures: Dick Whittington brings pantomime fun to the Royal & Derngate in Northampton

Lily Canter reviews Dick Whittington at the Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Friday, 17th December 2021, 4:00 pm
Phil Gallagher (centre) and company. Photo: Pamela Raith

What do you get if you cross a television soap star, a children's presenter, a man in a hoop skirt and a gorgeous star-crossed couple? A pantomime of course!

Filling the Royal & Derngate with raucous laughter this Christmas is Dick Whittington, a panto filled with music, dance and plenty of mayhem.

Extremely loosely based on the 14th century folktale of a man with a cat who set off from Gloucester to seek his fortune in London, the show features 20 scenes jam-packed with jokes, songs and interactive entertainment.

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The company of Dick Whittington. Photo: Pamela Raith

Right from the off the crowd is encouraged to clap, boo, scream and wiggle to their heart's content, much to the delight of the two nine-year-olds sat with me.

The humour comes thick and fast with pun, after pun, after pun, served up with plenty of self-awareness from the 13-strong cast.

Leading the antics is CBeebies presenter Phil Gallagher best known for his role as Mr Maker. Like all of the actors, he appears genuinely delighted to back in front of a live audience and has excellent chemistry with both young Dick, played by Alex Lodge, and Dame Dolly, pitched perfectly by children's TV voice legend Bob Golding.

Meanwhile EastEnders actor Ricky Champ gives good camp menace as the dastardly King Rat, but is rather sidelined by the characters of the Fitzwarren family who take Dick under their wing.

Back row: Jessie Adams as Tommy the Cat, Phil Gallagher as Billy, Front row: Alex Lodge as Dick, Bob Golding as Dame Dolly. Photo: Pamela Raith

The impressive sets, of which there are many, ooze character, colour and opulence with the painted backdrops reminiscent of classic Disney cartoons.

Although my son was confused by the paper thin plot ("there were no computers in the 14th century," he exclaimed), and nearly all of the jokes went over his head, he thoroughly enjoyed being allowed to shout at the top of his voice, and being told to prod me to join in.

Some of the best moments come in the improvised chaos when technical glitches occur and audience members refuse to play ball.

One slapstick scene involving The Twelve Days of Christmas and a treacherously slippery floor had me crying with laughter especially since the cast seemed to be in stitches too.

Alex Lodge as Dick and Ricky Champ as King Rat. Photo: Pamela Raith

Other highlights are the hugely creative outfits worn by Dame Dolly and 32 quickfire consecutive jokes reeled out from the wheelbarrow of fun.

Overall, despite the traditional pantomime tropes such as the dame and lame dad jokes, the production feels slightly fresher with nods to feminism and diversity, although perhaps doesn't go far enough.

As pantomimes go this is a winner for all generations of the family with plenty of popular culture references for both parents and grandparents plus barrel loads of gleeful interaction for the kids.

* Dick Whittington runs until Saturday January 2. Visit royalandderngate.co.uk to book.

Ricky Champ as King Rat. Photo: Pamela Raith
Deborah Tracey as Fairy Bowbells. Photo: Pamela Raith