Dick Whittington, Salisbury Playhouse

ONE of the advantages of reviewing a pantomime at a schools matinee, rather than the official press night, is that you really get a feel for how children enjoy the show. For many youngsters it will be their first experience of live theatre – and if it’s a good one, they may come back, not only for next year’s panto but to other theatre in future years.

So the response of the hundreds of school children at Dick Whittington on the afternoon we went promises well for future Salisbury audiences. They loved it – they sang along, danced along, clapped along, cheered and took part in all the familiar participations (It’s behind you, Oh no he didn’t … and the rest).

Quite right too – there is so much to enjoy in this show, with its interesting new version of an old familiar tale. We still have a thoroughly evil King Rat – Percy Rat, Lord Mayor of London (a dashingly villainous Will Jennings) – and a bumbling Alderman Fitzwarren (Hugh Osborne) with his feisty daughter Alice (Olivia Hewitt-Jones).

Dick (Will Carey) is a likeable likely lad, adventurous and kind, with his faithful cat Cosmo (Lindo Shinda) at his side. His mum, Sarah the Cook (David Rumelle) is a dab hand with the buns (and puns) and it’s sweetness and love at first sight when she and the Alderman lock eyes.

And Fairy Bowbells (Natalie Winsor) is on hand to steer the action with her big singing voice, glittering costumes and plenty of good magic.

There were a few times when the children’s attention flagged a bit – particularly in a long Gilbert & Sullivan patter song (a cook’s take on The Very Model of a Modern Major General), but it revived quickly enough. Memo to director – too many verses, cut a couple and you won’t lose the fun, but you will keep the action and the children’s attention.

Similarly with the “ghost shark” sequence in Hollywood (spoiler alert!), you don’t need three visitations before the shark starts tapping on shoulders. One is enough. The children seem to instinctively know the routine and those of us who have seen it more than a few times definitely don’t need it strung out like this.

But these are small (and rectifiable) criticisms. Overall, this Dick Whittington is a big, noisy, colourful and jolly festive hit. It’s full of inventive ideas, quick-fire jokes (maybe a few too many slightly off-colour asides) and some clever contemporary touches. Who knew that you could get a reference to Elon Musk into a pantomime about a plague of rats in medieval London!

It is too long, but the children loved it – watching them eager for every opportunity to take part, bubbling over with excitement and happiness, was a rare treat on a cold grey day at a time when the world sometimes feels a dark frightening place.

Dick Whittington runs to 7th January – and you don’t have to walk 500 miles to get there!


PS Please ditch the “Salisburyshire” – Salisbury is lovely, all on its own!

Photographs by the Other Richard