The delightful little theatre at Chipping Norton – a converted Victorian Salvation Army hall – is renowned for its simple traditional pantos, but new director John Terry’s offering of Dick Whittington this year is frankly a dog’s dinner.
London is suffering its worst recession since 1311, and a rat infestation, but the Fitzwarrens and their customers still advocate retail therapy, before setting sail on a trading expedition to Morocco on the Chippy Sark.
So far so good – though I’m not sure how Jason Langley’s likeable Dick came from Wychwood via Highgate – but although Ben Crocker’s written good lyrics for Thomas Johnson’s bouncy songs, his actual story line is thin and undernourished.
The London and Morocco scenes are feeble beyond belief. But there are good musical sequences when Emma Carroll’s Tommy the Cat hears the chimes of Bow Bells (splendidly evoked on piano by musical director Peter Pontzen, with Gemma Moore on sax and clarinet) and the ship’s crew sings a lullaby on the waves.
A subsequent sea battle with the pirates (“pi-rats”) is magically conjured in the auditorium with great drifts of sea bubbles and floating sea anemones on bendy sticks. And Ian Blower’s red-nosed Sarah the Cook makes sure almost every child gets a wrapped sweet when hurling them round the shop.
But the show lacks charm. If anything, Shaun Hennessy’s King Rat is a more likeable personality than Jessica Ellerby’s coarse-grained Alice Fitzwarren, and Laurence Aldridge’s Idle Jack seems to be wearing a large nappy for most of the action. The children are too withdrawn and anaemic.
Paul Lacoux triples as the Alderman, his numbskull brother Horatio and the Sultan of Morocco and plays them all with the same knowing nudge. It’s usually a pleasure to catch the “chippy panto” but Will Fricker’s style-free designs don’t quite hit the spot this year; you’d never guess he assisted Rae Smith on War Horse. Oh no, you wouldn’t.