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Friday, December 30, 2016



Pantomime: Dick WhittingtonKey Theatre, Peterborough, Cambs,
Performance Evening December 30th  2016
Run: December 1st 2016 to Jan 8 2017
Duration: 2 hours including interval
Curtain Up: 7:00pm
Seat Full Price: £18:50  (Concs. available)
Drinks: 2 x Gin/Tonic £12

Reviewer: Ian Ray Equity Member

There was a time when it was a joy to watch the pantomime at the cosy Key Theatre, knowing the book would be full of witty asides and wickedly poking topical fun equally at both notable and notorious locals, villages, wicked landowners, the POSH Footy team and the odd MP.  

The audience full of excited children waving lighted wands and flashing swords.  But the current Dick Whittington (allegedly from Whittlesey) sadly relied on a stinker of a script, only one joke worthy of note, and a string of song and dance numbers with the vocals washed out by poor audio, and principal cast members doubling up as the strolling (at times) pit orchestra.

Trouble is most of the dazzling multiplicity of musical instruments the on stage cast ritually toted were electronically amplified, so any lyrics competing with this 'wall of sound' were totally lost and the pre-occupation with musical stings, put any form of comedy continuity, sharp timing and acting, firmly on the back burner.

The writer Brad Fitt, is credited with writing ten pantomimes for the Basildon Essex Towngate Theatre, it shows, and clearly the  Only Way is Essex’ Basildon mentality relentlessly saturated the script, and didn’t logically translate to the City of Peterboroughs own multicultural ‘Red Balloon’ Cambridgeshire heritage..

A fine comedic actress Helen Power, this year as Fairy Bowbells  (Also takes time out to  manhandle a keyboard and selfies on a smart phone) is given several pages of chronic ‘mockney’ strangled dialogue that even the most hardened villain from Basildon (or Chingford even ) would have found hard to decipher. But she professionally made the best of it and eventually gained the muted support of the baffled Cambridgeshire audience. 

King Rat, if ever this is a role to dominate and manipulate young minds this is it. But every time King Rat appeared, Robin Johnson, his third time at the Key in panto, is clearly more at home in pop musicals, left his drumset behind on the bandstand. King Rat was just too nice, very few hisses in the first half, but the second half was more positive with ‘hiss and boo’ finally being heard to mark his arrival on stage.

Perhaps if he had hung on to his drumsticks and performed a Gene Krupa style drum solo on Alderman Fitzwarrens rat infested market stall that would have been a barnstorming statement... 

Your reviewer had a double take as Alderman Fitzwarren entered, Eddy York could easily double as Bake Off bad baker Paul Hollywood but that is as far as the joke went. Huge box office opportunity lost… Poor vocal sound,  and using the Key Theatres antiquated, wholly inadequate house sound system, many of his deliciously vocally dexterous comic songs, were sadly lost in the ether, but mercifully he didn’t tote a musical instrument, and stuck to the book - almost rigidly with little or no noises off, witty asides or in jokes with cast and shared with the audience.  Not that we would have heard the lines..

The giant spanner waving daughter (training to be an NVQ qualified Plumber, no less ) and eventual love interest of saxophone playing Dick Whittington, was energetically performed by multi-instrumentalist Louisa Beadel who could have performed all the band parts (dots) by herself, but as soon as the thigh slapping stopped, and the latest instrument is picked up, or played, the actual panto character seemed to play second fiddle. At times, we had the majority of the cast blowing or musically accenting on something or other, and its very difficult to vocally deliver convincing lines to keep the story narrative however improbable going.

Dick Whittlesey or was it Whittington?, offered a few hearty thigh slaps, and brief flashes of her Bristols Old Vic theatre school training, ( do keep up, it is panto) but she seemed more at home with a flute and tin whistle, than the laboured Brad Fitt book.

Her loyal cat (and briefly a dog imposter – don’t ask) Tommy the Cat only had one word to learn ‘Meow’  and that of course, was the core of that pantomime staple the songsheet….literally ‘meow’ over and over again,  again another musical talent…

In this production, Darren Machin wielded the rolling pin as Sarah the Cook, (oh no he didn’t) again let down by poor audio, but ends up in the final - all too brief wedding to the Alderman - the wedding dress would have been the envy of Dame Edna and a couture visual tour of Londons landmarks clearly designed for a longer impressive wedding finale scene, but cut down to a final walk on, in this panto.  

Idle Jack, what a comedy gift of a part, but when not sporting a giant tuba, sadly our Jack was dead idle and initially failed to raise a titter,  even with a glitter bedecked plumbers ballcock, during the first half, but eventually managed to get a ping back audience response.

Again, bags of musical talent, but poor sound, a weak script and not being fed lines for an impromptu off book banter / comedic battle with his fellow players, really didn’t help.  Half way through the run, this should be well in place.

At times, you just gained the impression additional padding was inserted, an overlong one word songsheet, and multiple clip board lists of audience names being read out, audience blasted with supersoakers, but where oh where, were all the jokes?

Robert Hazel, trebled up as Uncle Billy of the Scilly Isles (geddit?), keyboard and stage musical director, again the house audio let him down and he never really connected with the audience, however he provided an awkward link, to get the luckless Alderman, (his ship, a bit like this production, sunk) his family, dick, tommy the cat and all, back to London in a second ship - conveniently owned by Uncle Billy from the Scillies, so Dick could take up his role as Lord Mayor.  

Finally the highlight of the whole evening, the Folk of London, three teams of eight, not certain which team we had, but the kids put their hearts into a series of lively  routines and rapid costume changes from ratlings to ratings to village people, well Folk of London.  At least the future bodes well for live theatre, but some serious thinking needs to be urgently done about the future of the Key, by the PCC and Vivacity, clearly the technical side needs an urgent upgrade or professional sound hired in for the panto season.   

Finally a word for the Theatre Programme, lots of games and content under the distinctive guiding hand of John Good, but not credited, and very few ads. to support it.

Someone at Vivacity needs to extract the digit. Oh no (s)he doesn't...  Happy New Year and Sleeping Beauty is already pencilled in for 2017...  still the Milton Keynes panto runs into February....worth a shot...  

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THE HIGH COURT has ruled....People have a right to lampoon and criticise politicians and public officials under the Human Rights Act, the High Court has ruled.

We have the full High Court judgment, saved as a page on here. l

ampoon (lampoon) Pronunciation: /lamˈpuːn/ verb [with object] publicly criticize (someone or something) by using ridicule, irony, or sarcasm: the actor was lampooned by the press noun a speech or text lampooning someone or something: the magazine fired at God, Royalty, and politicians, using cartoons and lampoons.

Derivatives: lampooner noun lampoonery noun lampoonist noun Origin: mid 17th century: from French lampon, said to be from lampons 'let us drink' (used as a refrain), from lamper 'gulp down', nasalized form of laper 'to lap (liquid).


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