The rags to riches story of Dick Whittington and his cat Tommy allows itself to be easily adapted into the comforting format of the traditional pantomime we all know and love. A heavy dose of physical humour, a cast bound together in daftness and a happily ever after couple (spoiler, sorry), this pantomime took me back to watching traditional festive shows as a child.
All the familiar ingredients were there, from chaos in the kitchen, impromptu fits of giggles from the cast, which in turn had the audience in tears of laughter, and a good balance of cheers, boos, “He’s behind you’s” and “Oh yes it is” – ing. They ticked all the boxes, dastardly villain and his rat pack, check, floating fairies, check, and triumphant heroes, double check. They even created a few more panto favourites such as rapping cats and Ed Sheeran cameos which I’m sure will return to the Everyman in years to come.
Molly McGuire and Ruth Betteridge, who played Dick and his love interest Alice, both certainly had a pair of lungs on them, belting out love songs. The dame was slightly more reserved than expected but along with cat Tommy, and unsuccessful rat catcher Tweedy, the three of them broke the fourth wall wonderfully, drawing you into their colourful world of mayhem.
The soundbook was reused and battered, but very well loved. Songs from Fame and Half a Sixpence allowed for an audience sing-a-long but meant the show lacked any original music. Choreography was simple, effective and executed well by members of Corraine Collins Dance Studios and Morea Performing Arts.
The writing team made a strong attempt to give a nudge to the unwilling parents that had been dragged along. The abundance of references to adult topics, mostly Brexit and politics did begin to tire towards the end of the nearly 3 hour show. They had also clearly done their Cheltenham research, with jibes towards the local football team relegation, the lack of John Lewis and “Cheltonian Chav” insults. This was a nice touch as it brought you back down to reality and made you feel part of something more personal.
Tweedy, who rose to local fame and stardom after his role clowning around in Giffords Circus, stole the show captivating young and old with his circus skills and slapstick humour. From whipping up a storm in the Bake-Off kitchen, to some troublesome DIY problems with a pesky ladder, he demonstrated his slick comedic timing as well as his genuine talent as a circus performer. This boosted the professional edge of the performance even further.
After 11 years with director Phil Clark, it is clear he has made his stamp on Cheltenham pantomimes and is even getting a shout out mid performance. The production team cannot go without being praised as it is their bright and twinkly scenery and costumes that make the production oh-so-irresistible.