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From slapstick mayhem to a man in frocks - it must be panto
It constantly remains a mystery that pantomime is seemingly a British-only art form, given that audiences are treated to virtually every form of entertainment packed into little more than two hours on stage. Perhaps it is the role of the Dame being traditionally played by a man, something which can never change if panto is to retain its magical essence as the ultimate family show, whether at Christmas time or not. Whatever the reason, UK audiences are clearly delighted when panto season comes around each year. Which brings us to the Lichfield Garrick theatre in Staffordshire where an extended run of the popular pantomime, Dick Whittington, is currently being performed from November 29 to Saturday 5 January 2019.
Sam Rabone and Ben Thornton as Dolly the Cook and Billy (left) with Alice (Beccy Lane) and the Alderman (Ieuan Rhys). Credit Pamela Raith Photography
Created for the Garrick for the third time by leading pantomime company Evolution Productions, Dick Whittington has all the aforementioned ingredients for a fabulous evening, or afternoon, out. Comedy, including topical references to Donald Trump and Brexit, singing, dance, drama and slapstick, plus a flying fairy and even the clever use of 3D special effects during an underwater scene - they were all there in this fabulous pantomime that had something for everyone, from the age of a toddler right up to a pensioner. The main ingredient, the glue that holds a panto together, has to be the Dame. And the Lichfield Garrick is fortunate that it has one of the best in the business in Sam Rabone, who also directs with aplomb.
Left to right, the Cat, Dick, Alice, Dolly, Billy and the Alderman get in panto fun. Credit Pamela Raith Photography
But even a talented Dame needs a great sidekick, and the Garrick is once again blessed to have comedian Ben Thornton on stage. Individually, but more so collectively, Ben and Sam are a joy to watch, particularly in specially put-together routines such as the names of sweets and a hair-raising slapstick scene while attempting to cook on a rolling ship. Ben, who takes on the role of (Dame) Dolly the Cook's son Billy, also deserves special praise for his impressions of using stairs, an escalator and a lift during one scene inside a sweet shop. The two also figure strongly in another highly amusing comedy routine, this time revolving around a supposed magic trick.
Katrina Bryan as Fairy Bowbells (left) soars above the stage with the cat (Lucy Parry) below. Credit Pamela Raith Photography
But what of the other stars of the show? Talented singer and actor Ashley Emerson is outstanding as Dick, while Beccy Lane is suitably delightful as Alice. And, as before with Sam and Ben, they perform their best when combining on vocal duets, in particular, 'This Is Me' from the recent hit movie The Greatest Showman. Children's TV presenter Katrina Bryan is excellent as Fairy Bowbells, particularly when having to swing above the stage while still delivering her lines, while Joanne Heywood gets the 'nastiness' levels just about right as Queen Rat. Accomplished actor Ieuan Rhys brings his talents to the mayhem as Alice's father Alderman Fitzwarren, while Lucy Parry brings a great deal to her role of Tommy the Cat - hilariously changed by a young member of the audience to Gertrude - than just saying 'meow'. The talented ensemble includes Nicolais Kerry who briefly appears as the Sultan but also produces some impressive acrobatics.
Joanne Heywood as the menacing Queen Rat. Credit Pamela Raith Photography
Dick Whittington continues at the Lichfield Garrick theatre until Saturday 5 January 2019. Tickets priced from £17 to £30 are available by visiting www.lichfieldgarrick.com or by calling the theatre box office on 01543 412121.
Billy (Ben Thornton) and Alice (Beccy Lane) with children from the ensemble. Credit Pamela Raith Photography