DICK WHITTINGTON Review for Dartmouth Chronicle
Feb 12, 2010
· Before launching into a review of the superb production of Dick Whittington which was performed at the end of January in Dittisham Village Hall it seemed pertinent to look back at the history of English Pantomime. Richard Whittington, the son of Sir William Whittington of Gloucester, was a wealthy merchant and philanthropist in London, who served as Lord Mayor of London at times between 1397 and 1420. The legend of Dick Whittington and His Cat was first recorded in 1605 and was adapted as a play the same year. Did you know that pantomimes such as ours are also performed in Canada, Jamaica, South Africa and India? Isn’t it lovely that these traditions still continue all over the world into the 21st century? Some pantomime conventions are quaintly described thus “the leading male character ‘the principal boy’ is played by a young woman, usually in tight fitting male garments (such as breeches) that make her female charms evident”. Our Dick Whittington was a wonderfully sexy grandmother who looked terrific in her breeches and high-heeled thigh boots. Caroline Hall had never done anything like this before and admitted that on the first night she felt sick, had cold sweats and could not remember one line. She totally came through and performed and sang brilliantly every night. To continue with the conventions “an older woman, the pantomime Dame, (in this play Sarah the Cook) is usually played by a man in drag”. Again, Alun Sherwood had never worn a 44 DD bra before but boy did he fill the role. The striptease was particularly memorable and Hilary Langton, who invented and crafted all the extraordinary hats, and Nicci Taylor, who did all the make up, are to be congratulated for making Sarah the Cook, Tommy the Cat and other members of the cast unforgettable. Another convention “risqué double entendre, often wringing innuendo out of perfectly innocent phrases” worked brilliantly as the script had been written especially for the village by Harry Littlewood, a character actor and performer of many pantomimes in the last century who was a great friend of the director, Ronald Travers. Having the audience participate is something that dates back from Shakespearean times and on occasion there was concern for the state of the old roof of the hall with the noise of boos, hisses and cheers and the competitive singing from either side of the stalls. “The Chorus, who can be considered extras on-stage, and often appear in multiple scenes” were superbly costumed by Stella Stothart and the worthy sewing circle and the wardrobe, choreography and singing throughout the show was terrific due to months of rehearsals with the music maestro, David Oldbury,(see photo) and the combined energy and enthusiasm of the Director, Ronald Travers,(see photo) and the Producer, Pat Heighway. The talents of the Paul Riley School of scenery painters, the costumes, the stunning belly dancer, Colette Charsley and the innovative props made in the famous Paul Heighway shed all came together in the colourful scene at the Sultana of Moroccos’s Palace. This pantomime had other unique qualities. One family provided three generations of performers Dr Stephanie Ashton played the Sultana, her son Alex Thom the villain and his daughter, Freya, only four years old, was a star in the chorus.(see Photo) We also had a two generation team. Local farmer Keith Wotton starred as Idle Jack (no disrespect to Devon farmers) and his daughter Anna was a terrific Tommy the Cat who could put infinite expressions into a miaow. . The lovely thing is that Keith played Buttons in a 1970’s production of Cinderella when people actually skiied into the village to see the panto. The dedication and work but more importantly perhaps the fun that everyone had on this event really showed how even in this age of terrifying technology there is nothing quite like a village panto.Click here to see photo.