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Dick Whittington and His Cat (Bury St Edmunds Theatre Royal)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Do you know the quotation which begins “The female of the species…”? It’s certainly true of the Daniel O’Brien and Peter White version of the story of Dick Whittington and His Cat, for opposing our resourceful moggie Tommy (Lizzie Franks) is none other than Queen Rat. Corinna Powlesland and her troupe of ratlings from the Hazlewood Dance Studio are a force to be reckoned with.

Sarina Hoskins’ costumes put us firmly into the reign of Edward III} and the opening number is a chilling ditty about the Black Death with its “Ring a ring of roses” connexion. Not that you’d have known it, for the amplification at the performance I saw seemed at odd with the Georgian theatre’s own pin-drop acoustics. It was a pity, for White has a nice way with lyrics as well as tunes ([Rossini’s “Cat duet” and “Largo al factotum” among the latter).

It took a couple of scenes for Stephen Weller as Sarah the Cook to get the measure of his audience, but he’s a Dame to keep an eye – and a ear – open for in the future. A fine baritone voice with a firm falsetto on occasion and a likeable personality as well. A Japanese party on a cultural exchange visit was in the audience (I’m not quite sure what they made of it all) and Weller’s asides in Japanese deserved the applause which they received.

Ratlings apart, there’s no chorus in this production, and both Victoria Butler (a débutante sort of Fairy Bowbells) and Martin Richardson (Captain Lubber) take on a number of contrasting roles. Tony Stansfield is an Alderman Fitzwarren with attitude and also sings very well. Franks is thoroughly cat-like as Tommy, lithe, laid-back and oh-so-slightly disdainful of mere two-legged creatures.

Hannah Blake’s Alice not only looks pretty in her medieval gowns but makes the part one of a girl who is prepared to make up her own mind, and stick to it. She’s well-matched with Gareth Bennett-Ryan’s Dick, a spry young country lad who also has a streak of iron determination in him. They excel both as soloists and in the duets and concerted numbers. Grant Martin and Nicky Caulfield in the pit made two musicians and a variety of instruments ring out with considerable force.


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