Dick Whittington at the Everyman Cheltenham

The rags-to-riches story of Dick Whittington and his quest to become Lord Mayor of London kicks off the pantomime season in Cheltenham this year. A ramshackle story with ample opportunity to get the kids squealing and enough nods-and-winks to keep adults entertained as well, Dick Whittington and His Cat is a delightful family outing.

The Everyman production does not try to mediate at all how slim the story of Dick Whittington is. It might seem facile to criticise a children’s Christmas performance for a weak plot but those unfamiliar with the festive catalogue of pantomimes are best advised that the narrative of Dick Whittington is the biggest shambles of the lot. The best approach therefore is to embellish it with lots of skits and not become bogged down in the logic of the disjointed events. Astutely, this is the approach taken at the Everyman.

The success of the skits is in no small part due to Tweedy, famed for his clowning at Gifford’s Circus, playing the incapable Rat Catcher. His easy rapport with the audience – kids and adults alike – is enhanced by some very impressive circus skills. The biggest appeal he has is surely his dedicated efforts to reduce co-stars to corpsing and tittering on stage. Pantomime dame Sarah the Cook (Mark Roper) and Alderman Fitzwarren (Simon Stanhope), both funny in their own rights, are the main targets of this. They have my sympathies.

The main roles are played with aplomb by Molly McGuire and Ben Goffe (Dick and his sarcastic cat Tommy, respectively), though of the main story roles my favourite was Andrew Westfield’s King Rat. Panto villains provide a great opportunity for hamming it up and it is tremendous fun to see the actors having as much fun on stage as the audience is in the stalls.

I also cannot overlook praising the production staff overall. This is director Phil Clark’s eleventh pantomime at the Cheltenham Everyman and his experience clearly shows with the elaborate nature of the staging. The sets are considerably varied and a fair few include mechanical elements used to great effect for comical hijinks. It’s a degree of effort that goes beyond the basic needs of the pantomime. The efforts are much appreciated to make a charming play even funnier.    ★★★★☆   Fenton Coulthurst   2nd December 2017