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Stage Review: Dick Whittington – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Tommy the Cat (Georgie Leatherland) and the talented young rats.

By Alice Fowler

’Tis the season to groan at terrible puns; to be dazzled by the brightest, most glittering costumes this side of Vegas; to shout “Laid back, Jack!” at the top of your voice and do the hokey-cokey in your seat – well why not?

’Tis the panto season, of course: and no one does it better than our own Yvonne Arnaud.

We smell a rat: Idle Jack (Jamie Brook) and Alice (Natalie Turner) inspect the rat nav.

Every year this most creative and exuberant of teams faces a challenge: how to do pretty much the same as last year, only better. I am delighted to report that this year’s Dick Whittington succeeds on every count.

All the old favourites – yes, Peter Gordon, professing to being 50, Kit Hesketh-Harvey as King Rat, Jamie Brook as Idle Jack – are back. So too are essential set pieces like The Twelve Days of Christmas and Always Look On the Bright Side of Life: both as sensationally silly as ever.

Yet writer and director Jamie Smith has also created something fresh and new. There is innuendo (inevitable, given our main character’s name) but not too much of it. There is a handsome new leading man, Kane Verall, who with Natalie Turner as Alice Fitzwarren, provides a genuine frisson of romance.

Fairy Bowbells (Judy Cornwell) and Tommy the Cat (Georgie Leatherland) join forces against the rats.

The show has a nautical theme as the cast heads to Morocco by ship, with Sarah the Cook (Eagle Radio’s Peter Gordon) as its highly unsuitable captain. The sets are wonderful throughout. Gordon and Brook, as mother and son, embrace on the prow, Titanic-style, while rats – the villains of the piece – scurry about below.

Of course, baddies get the best roles, and no one does it better than Kit Hesketh-Harvey, on top form this year as King Rat. London’s streets may or may not be paved with gold; but we all know what its sewers are like, and Hesketh-Harvey presides over his with relish, sending his young rat prodigies (winningly played by the talented juvenile chorus) out to wreak havoc.

Mother and son: Sarah the Cook (Peter Gordon) and Idle Jack (Jamie Brook) realise Dick Whittington has been wronged.

Plenty of humour comes from Idle Jack’s rat detector, or “rat nav”, which in one hilarious scene between Gordon and Brook, also transforms into a parent-defying ipod.

Ranged against the rodents are Tommy the Cat, played with feline grace by Georgie Leatherland, and Fairy Bowbells (Judy Cornwell). No one – not even King Rat himself, you feel – would dare to mess with this stateliest of fairies, who combines the authority of everyone’s favourite granny with sparkles and a wand.

The whole cast breaks frequently into song, with unforgettable renditions of Mr Blue Sky and YMCA, among others. The musical accompaniment, as ever at the Yvonne Arnaud, is top class, under the musical direction of Bryan Hodgson (“Uncle Bryan”).

Boo! Hiss! King Rat (Kit Hesketh-Harvey) emerges to cause trouble.

This vibrant production runs until January 7. If you haven’t already booked tickets, and fancy an evening hurling insults, foam balls (rat repellent, in case you’re wondering) and pretty much anything else you fancy at the stage, do so now. You know you want to. It wouldn’t be Christmas without it.

Dick Whittington runs until January 7th. See: www.yvonne-arnaud.co.uk or tel: 01483 440000.

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