The Court Theatre takes a seismic shift nearer to London for the setting of its festive panto, Dick Whittington, which opened on Saturday.
This almost sell-out show, which runs for 12 performances at the Tring venue throughout the week, is a lavish and fun-filled romp through one of our favourite Yuletide stories.
Although rooted in some semblance of fact (there really was a Dick Whittington in London’s 14th century who was a trader and politician), writers Ian Gower and Nick Russon have brought the rags to riches tale bang up-to-date by including Alan, sorry, Alderman, Sugar in a starring role as the Del Boy of retailing.
Colin Tovee, made up to look like Lord Sugar, does a great job as the proprietor of the Alderman Sugar Trading and Distribution Company (or Amstrad for short) who is persuaded by his lovesick daughter Alice to take on an apprentice.
Down-at-heel Richard Whittington has walked all the way from Gloucestershire, accruing a clever cat along the way, in search of streets paved with gold. Instead he finds a recession-hit city overrun with vermin and threatened by evil King Rat.
The Goth-suited Gower enjoys himself immensely playing Ratty (well, if you can’t be a star in your own panto when can you be?). He pops on, insults the audience (and even gets some juvenile stick in return) before retreating into his subterranean lair to a cacophony of boos.
The Machiavellian King Rat plots to destroy London, Sugar’s empire, and the ambitions of Dick and Alice. The only thing stopping him is a cute little fairy who battles evil while trying to aid the show’s heroes.
There are some great performances from this enthusiastic company. Court Theatre regular Derek Rookley (Bosun) only has one word to say but he comes up with a variety of deliveries that delight the audience. There is also some fantastic talent on stage from the show’s youth section.
The comedy comes thick and fast and is led by an irrepressible dame, Sara The Cook (Colin Hubbocks looking remarkably fine in a series of splendid dresses) and her son, Idle Jack (Joshua Luke).
There is also the most suspect-looking bunch of sailors ever to escape a Dolce & Gabbana advert – Freddie Clarke; Twig (wonderfully camp); Alastair Fiori-McPhee who, despite being burdened with oversized glasses, is quite a dancer; Jae Maclaughlin and Max Guest (as Roger the cabin boy).
The full title of the panto is Dick Whittington and His Cat and what a purrfect pairing this turns out to be. Accompanying Jack Hodges’ Dick (so to speak) was the fantastically feline Harriet Rogers as Tommy The Cat.
She gives a show-stopping performance that includes some impressive displays of gymnastics and kick-boxing as well as an enchanting turn as Dick’s furry friend.
No panto is complete this year without a blast of Psy’s Gangnam Style and it was up to Jack to show that he’s not so idle after all. There is also the perennial ghost sketch, lots of slapstick, plenty of family fun and an effusive outpouring of patriotism with The Olympics and a sea of Union Jacks book-ending the performance.
Dick Whittington is a great finale to another successful year for The Court Theatre. The show runs until Saturday. For ticket-availability call the box office 07543 560478 or go online www.courttheatre.co.uk
One more Dick to come this week when the Leighton Buzzard Drama Group open on Friday night at the town’s Lake Street Theatre. For tickets and times call the box office 0300 300 8130.