Dick Whittington and His Cat – New Wolsey Theatre
Who doesn’t enjoy the New Wolsey Theatre’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto? It’s a staple part of the annual Christmas cheer and you know what you are going to get: fun, merriment, music, and a little bit of chaos.
The show starts with a leap onto the stage through the trap door from King Rat (Steve Simmonds) who rhymes through this introduction of his evil plan to take over London with his gang of rats – he’s instantly met with ‘Booooos’ from the whole audience. Fairy (Janna May) pops up from the other side of the stage with her rhyming introduction and is greeted with cheers – the fight between Good and Evil has begun!
Set against the back drop of the A12, Dick Whittington is trying to hitch to London when he encounters Cat (Myles Miller), a stray, bored cat who decides to join Dick on his journey, regardless of whether Dick likes it or not. With plenty of local references from the Copdock roundabout to the Chelmsford services, we all can relate to the humour.
Dick gets to London and meets Alice (Elizabeth Rowe) and Sarah, the Dame (Max Kinder), a mother and daughter cake-making team who are having trouble with their supplies being stolen by rats. Dick and the Cat become friends with the two, although King Rat tries to scupper their friendship. However, they travel to a mysterious island with the help of a dodgy pirate, to enter a rat catching competition. Alice wins but doesn’t want to take the prize of money and becoming the Mayor. They rid London of King Rat and his gang and everyone lives happily ever after.
The story is fast paced with plenty of twists and turns to amuse all ages as it’s fun and bonkers. The brilliant addition to this theatre’s panto each year is the level of music, it is the forefront of the panto, not a side entry, the songs are fully integrated into the story. All the cast play at least two or even three instruments and they are in/out of scenes jumping on/off the musician platforms which take up at least half of the stage, which just adds to the action and atmosphere.
They are a very talented bunch, favourite and classic pop songs are used within the story where seeing King Rat play some cracking guitar riffs or Alice with her saxophone just seem a normal thing. Words are changed to suit the scene which makes is more entertaining. They managed a lot of tracks in a couple of hours, some were played in part to enhance a line in the script or were sung in full to the delight of the audience. The two favourites were ‘Park Life’ being turned into ‘I’m a Pirate’ and ‘Gangsters Paradise’ being turned into a jazzy style ‘King Rat’s Paradise’. Some lovely voices could be heard too, The Cat’s rendition of ‘Cat’s Life’ and the deep tones of the Rat Henchman Jordan couldn’t be missed on ‘Take Me On’.
It’s very difficult to talk about a stand out performance as the casting was completely right for all the characters for example Sarah, the Dame played by Max Kinder, was funny, cheeky, loud, and The Cat was well played by Myles Miller, who along with his charisma added the right amount of camp and sass to the feline.
As always the classic elements of a panto are there, including clambering through the audience, water pistol, call outs, lots of opportunity for ‘He’s Behind You’ and ‘Oh no it’s not’ and ‘Aye Captain’ and of course dragging out a volunteer on stage for ‘I need a Hero’.
It’s a great panto production and they managed to cram a lot of fun, jokes, humour, laughter, absurdity, amusement, energy, music, and a fun story into just under two hours. The audience all had having a fabulous night.
The New Wolsey Theatre’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto runs until 20th January 2024.