Review: Dick Whittington. BSC Theatricals and Encore- edge. The Squire Performing Arts Centre.

Why do we Brits go to the pantomime? Because it’s the first chance our children get to enjoy live theatre? Because the form is bright, colourful and fun? Potentially because the story is mostly a well-known story of good winning over evil? Perhaps because a panto is something easily digestible where we can rustle our sweets and respond vocally without being tutted at by our neighbour in seat K11. Likely as not it is because we know there are gonna be songs and dances and as audience members we can sing along or shout out “He’s behind you!!!” to help the young lead/s escape or confront danger. For others it might be because we hope that the crazy but lovable cross-dressing panto dame with more and more outlandish costumes will be a vital part of our evening’s enjoyment. Digging deeper, maybe because the verbal panto humour will have something of Carry On style innuendo to tickle the adults (anyone seen my Dick?) and the visual aspects, plus daft character inter-play, will bring unbridled innocent laughter from their kids. Is it because the people on stage appear to be enjoying the show as much as us and we can boo the villain and applaud the hero or heroine without compunction? Is it because the sets and special effects both visual and aural are truly heart-beating ten-to-the-dozen, magical?

Well of course, it is all of the above but sometimes there is something vital you don’t directly see on stage but definitely and unwittingly become part of as a committed audience member who has paid the price of admission and a two quid programme. That is, boys and girls, mums and dads – by your patronage and applause you intuitively recognise the hard work and talents of putting on a pantomime. In the case of BSC Theatricals (in partnership with Encore- edge) what you don’t see is the proverbial balls of eighteen year-old director Ben Bradley to go ahead and mount his/their inaugural show at The Space/ Squire Performing Arts Centre in Nottingham. That kind of producer- writer guts takes a lot of commitment, daring and hard cash notwithstanding. Not only that, but Mr Bradley has written the show along with local panto legend Adam Guest. And he has been an active part of the whole organising of the show and selecting of set and costumes too. If that is not enough, Ben Bradley gives a thumping good hiss boo performance as King Rat. This young man has a definite future in theatre. Modestly, he apportions much of the credit to Adam Guest and Encore. Should we all have such experienced and genial mentors.

And now to the production itself: this afternoon’s performance has a large contingent of quite young children in the audience all sat with their parents or guardians. They are all wrigglingly eager to see if Dick (Shona Stewart) and his cat Tom (Andrew Bould) can beat the evil machinations of King Rat (Ben Bradley). Or more plainly – just to have a good time at the theatre. And this production of Dick Whittington certainly fulfils all of their expectations and more. Well, except for the hard-hearted little girl behind me who vocally disagrees with anybody on the stage wanting to be her ‘friend’ and could see through any stage tricks and was more than happy to expose the sham.

The entire amateur cast are top class and know how to work an audience and deal admirably with the odd things that children and their parents choose to shout out. Idle Jack (Jack Readyhoof) is an instant hit with the kids – except the aforementioned little girl behind me – and Alderman Fitzwarren (Kheenan Jones) has them giggling with his trembles and terror of rats. Fairy Bowbells (Milly Bould) brings plenty of East End humour, fairy glamour and haphazard spells to the piece. Tom the Cat (Andrew Bould) even gets the children meowing goodbye to him each time he leaves the stage. That’s the delightful thing about children – they are unreserved in their responses and know a good-at-heart faithful cat when they see him.

Adam Guest proves once again what a brilliant panto dame he can be and this time around his winningly good Scottish Sarah the Cook is prime example of his talents. Importantly, his adlibbing is in style with his character and he/she never loses the thread of the story. Lucy Gazzard makes a fine love-struck Alice Fitzwarren and has an excellent singing voice in the Love Songs Medley with Shona Stewart (Dick).

The cast for this show are quite small but big things come from small packages (ooer missus) and this Dick Whittington ensemble – Emma Weir, Gabriel Bonilla, Lindsey Greasely and Katie Cruickshank sing and dance their panto socks off throughout. The four main professional sets are provided by Crossroads Pantomime. They include Fitzwarren’s shop, London Dockyard, on board the Saint Marie and The Empress’s Palace and are very impressive. As are the costumes provided by Molly Limpet’s Theatrical Emporium Ltd.

It’s the last, sturdy thigh-slapping, night tonight for a very enjoyable and watchable Dick Whittington at The Space so maybe you will not get a chance to experience a performance of this particular ‘Dick’ (oh I say matron!) unless you have booked. But do not be down-hearted and do look out for BSC Theatricals future performances and Encore Performing Arts.

Encore are presenting Frankenstein by Nick Dear 21st-24th September 2022 and that surely has to be one for theatre diary!

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