Pantomime has undergone many transformations over the years, but future success relies on continuing evolution and this heartwarming, feel-good pantomime is an example Darwin would adore. From the moment Lisa Millar’s delightful Fairy Bowbells enters, to the foot-stamping, high-energy finale, there is not a moment that doesn’t thrill. Rarely do I belly laugh in a theatre, but Dame Brad Fitt and Idle Jack, played by Matt Crosby, have the audience howling with both traditional and new material given a welcome modern twist.
The rest of the cast are also hilarious, Amy Castledine’s Alice Fitzwarren with an NVQ in plumbing, is gloriously tongue in cheek, as is John Pennington’s beautifully crafted Alderman Fitzwarren.
Panto noir is provided by James Hirst as King Rat with squeaky vigour and Kaine Horey’s Cat is acrobatically purrfect. Signs of a finely crafted production are everywhere and praise to director Brad Fitt and producer Dave Murphy for bringing a show together where all departments seem to understand their vision and style, and embrace it with infectious euphoria. I doubt you will see a better pantomime this Christmas. One word of warning, if you do find yourself selected as Sarah the Cook’s new best friend – run.
by Simon Bamford
Traditionalists will find plenty to enjoy in this year’s Dick Whittington and His Cat at the Arts Theatre. So too will those who like variations on familiar themes. It’s been written by Brad Fitt (who also plays Sarah the Cook) and Stewart Permutt; Dave Murphy directs with Fitt. No individual designer is credited except for lighting and sound (Mike Robertson and Ian Horrocks-Taylor respectively) though the sets (from Hiss and Boo) are attractively story-book and the costumes (from Carry On) – predominantly red, white and blue – are excellent.
Fairy Bowbells (Lisa Millar) is a be-spectacled no-nonsense sort of spirit; it is she who matches Dick (Julie Buckfield) with Tommy the cat (Kaine Horey). Buckfield is very much in the mould of old-time principal boys, well-mannered in all circumstances. It’s no wonder that Horey’s gorgeously athletic silver tabby spins circles around our hero, not to mention any rat foolish enough to come within claw reach. And Amy Castledine as Alice Fitzwarren is another interesting characterisation, a merchant’s daughter more than happy to get her hands dirty in the practical aspects of her City & Guilds plumbing course. Villains tend to steal the show from the lead comics and James Hirst as King Rat takes every opportunity to snarl and swirl. The children’s chorus make suitably squeaky ratlings and take part in the song and dance numbers with great style. The script is packed with references to bankers’ bonuses (no wonder that King Rat wants to be in control of the City!) and MPs’ expenses but there’s enough visual fun and punning jokes to keep children in the audience happy. The ship’s galley, listing badly as Sarah and Idle Jack (Matt Crosby) attempt to prepare supper, is a particular audience favourite – even if it’s hard on the actors. This device is apparently called a slosh truck. Most apposite.
Other good touches are provided in the interplay between the different personalities. Tommy displays some lithe feline characteristics as well as juggling and impersonating a dog on board ship. Alderman Fitzwarren (John Pennington) isn’t just a dear old duffer, Jack has moments when he’s definitely not idle and Sarah keeps the whole froth well whipped. The adult dancers do well by Scott Ritchie’s choreography and the songs, including a Gilbert & Sullivan duet, move the action along as well as providing breathing space. A four-piece band is something of a luxury these days; Barney Ashworth is the musical director.
THE audience roared its head off. They loved this show from start to finish.
Brad Fitt as Sarah the Cook is the ultimate dame. It is such a treat to hear that wonderful bass voice of his, please can he sing more of the robust Gilbert and Sullivan that this show gave us such a lovely taste of – or sing more of anything at all really. We need Brad Fitt in concert weekly……or strongly. To paraphrase a song they didn’t sing (and there is everything from Petula Clark to Hairspray.) I love the way he moves. I love his aplomb – and all the rest of him too. His frocks are gorgeous.
This is another lively, sparkling show, full of verve and panache. It’s slick, slap, slip-sliding super and that’s not just the kitchen scene. Congratulations, too, to Amy Castledine for an Alice Fitzwarren with real character. Who can resist a principal girl with a level three NVQ in plumbing? Every girl should have one, especially if you are going to fall in love with a man who talks to a cat. Julie Buckfield as Dick and Matt Crosby as idle Jack and all this family cast wear this show like a comfortable but best dress you know you will always look good in. This is not a trip to the theatre, it is a visit to another world. They make you very welcome there. Tommy, played by Kaine Horey, is a most athletic moggy, a real star turn, literally. We fell head over heels for him, which was just as well because he was very rarely the right way up. The babes are good enough to eat. Just the right mixture of star quality and thrilled to be there-ness.
We were thrilled to be there, too. It’s Christmas magic.
British Theatre Guide
Review by Simon Sladen (2009)
The streets of Cambridge were paved with ice on a frosty Saturday evening, but this didn’t deter our hero Dick Whittington as he searched for fame and fortune in London Town down at the Cambridge Arts Theatre.
The annual Arts pantomime is just like a re-union between old friends, with most of the cast having appeared here numerous times before. For Julie Buckfield as Dick Whittington this is her sixth Cambridge panto.
Buckfield has wonderful stage presence and makes a strong principal boy. Dick’s love interest, Alice, is played by Amy Castledine and the two of them sing some tuneful duets and show that they can dance just as well as the ensemble. This production’s Alice is a modern motorbike riding young woman training for her City and Guilds NVQ Level 3 in plumbing, a qualification which helps lead to King Rat being flushed away forever and is a nice contemporary take on what is sometimes a dull principal girl character.
John Pennington plays Alice’s dad, Alderman Fitzwarren, as a cross between two famous captains; Mainwaring and Peacock, who takes in Dick and a very supple and acrobatic Tommy the cat (Kaine Horey), before casting them aside after Dick gets framed by King Rat.
Baddy and goody play out their battle onstage as is expected and Lisa Millar as Fairy Bowbells and James Hirst as King Rat are well cast in their roles, eliciting cheers and boos when required.
Character wise, panto is all about pairs – principal boy and principal girl, goody and baddy, and, of course, comic and dame. Brad Fitt, who also writes (with Stewart Permutt) and directs (with Dave Murphy), returns this year giving his Sarah the Cook alongside Matt Crosby’s Idle Jack. Fitt’s Dame is more caring than crazy, with Crosby’s Jack more friendly than frantic, but this approach seems to suit the Cambridge production. Having said this, the two still manage to create some comedic moments in a seafaring slosh scene aboard a rocking galleon, with various ingredients ending up on the floor. The result is a slippery surface and some much loved panto tomfoolery.
Praise must also go to a great sounding band, used to their full potential under Barney Ashworth’s musical direction. Their delightful tunes are brought alive on stage, danced and sung to by a very talented ensemble. It is a welcome change to see the babes made up of fifty percent boys and fifty percent girls, meaning cross dressing here does not need to occur and everyone can have a partner of the opposite sex when required. Sharp choreography is provided by Scott Ritchie and a highlight of the night is act two’s opening number ‘In the navy’, where instead of the usual “We want you” military clapping, the audience is treated to the chorus tapping to The Village People’s 1979 hit.
Cambridge’s pantomime is family oriented; nothing is too scary, too rude, too loud or too outlandish. Bright and cheerful costumes compliment a storybook set and add the final touches to this extremely polished panto.