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Dick Whittington


6 - 8th January 2005


Peter Denyer


Chris Abbott



It’s the first week in January; the hangover drifts into the distant past, the last quality street slips down as easy as the first and it musta be pantomime time at Parish Players. So at 7.30, nice and punctual, the ever-eager Thursday crowd settled down as the show opened with a lively opening number that avoided the obvious and over used musical clichés for Dick Whittington.

Now allow me to cut to the crux of the matter immediately by talking about the major factor of this and recent pantomimes that parish Players have staged. Chris Abbott! With out a doubt he has pushed the production values of the company through the roof. I have been unfortunate enough to see a number of companies perform pantomimes this year, both amateur and professional, but I have seldom seen such originality in staging and design. The limitations of the hall stage were completely ignored as Chris designed and produced a show with original and vibrant sets, outstanding use of puppets and some simple but effective special effects. I have no doubt he already working out how PP’s can put a fly tower on the roof of the hall.

Ok here comes the first moan, chorus you may not be enjoying yourself but at least act as though you are. There were many whose smiles were worth the entrance fee alone and complimented the action on stage; there were some that looked as though they were performing in a Greek tragedy. Also knowing your words for each song means you’ll sing with far more confidence and you’ll be louder in the process; this was particularly evident for In The Navy. It is well known that I hate the aaaah factor in pantomimes but it must be said that Toby Conyers was my favourite member of the chorus, David could have breathed fire and no one would have noticed, all eyes were on Toby.

Now lets have a look at the principals.

Belinda Thomas was great fun to watch and you really began to feel that she hated those poetic lines, very original portrayal of a difficult pantomime role. Pete Smith looked and sounded fabulous as King Rat, true menace but a rat without a tail seemed a little strange. Emily Miller looked wonderful as the Queen of the Sea, so green. She actually looked wet, as though she had taken a shower in her costume. Fortunately she also never required a prompt either. Chrissy Watson had all the gusto and brashness one would expect from a sultan but had her beard slipped or was she meant to have a hairy chest? Anne Carroll swaggered around the stage, as all good captains should do, more Errol Flynn than crusty old sea dog. Great work. Hannah Reeves and Emily Vaughan-Barratt just made me smile, young acting talent like that is a joy to watch, each had their own identity but worked well together as a team. They had clearly invested time in rehearsals, never let the energy levels slip, and showed lots of style. Ray Ball just cracks me up every time I see him; it’s like watching Spike Milligan in slow motion. A great sense of timing and despite his stature never crowds the stage. Richard Warner looked disturbingly young; Cilla Black in the mid-sixties sprang to mind. He played the tough ‘link’ role well but it’s just a shame about the shoes, which didn’t quite match the costume. Tom Sheridan looked great as Tommy the Cat and put in a very physical performance and full of energy. He never fell into the cute cuddly cat trap and always acted more like Top Cat than Bagpuss. David Golder’s stagecraft is always top draw; great to hear the classic ‘no sign of Dick’ line but he must have been in a terrible draft on that stage, especially in the second act. Chrissie Murray showed great confidence and class, she moved, sang, acted and interacted with such aplomb. No prissy and wishy washy (sorry wrong panto) leading lady, instead a true principal girl who’s growing relationship with Dick was believable. Caroline Chick was perfect, in my view the role of So-Shi in Aladdin was not meaty enough for her, as Master Whittington she shone. Confident when things went wrong, commanding the stage at the right moments and tackling a tough solo song with real verve. She should feel proud of her performance and l look forward to seeing her and Chrissie in more dramatic pieces in future.

Other points of note in the show were the closing song of Act one; the very slick ‘mop routine’; the under sea scene using UV light (but can sharks swim backwards?); King Rat’s solo and the harmony in ‘Grow the Roses of Success’. I was particularly taken by the rat puppets and all of the puppeteers should have been credited as such in the programme.

Props costumes lighting and sound all played their part and added further to the high production value. The band were a good tight unit but never too loud, the make up strong but not comical. What more could the cast want?

Now I know it is hard to move seamlessly from one required element of a pantomime to the next but at times I felt that elements were a little slow or worse still, under rehearsed. This may have been due to first night nerves, I don’t know, but some sections moved at a near funereal pace. Others were slick and full of pace. If I take the slapstick scene in the kitchen for example, this seemed to be shoe horned into the show. The pace was mixed and of all the elements in pantomime this should be the slickest if it is to work. The mop routine however, had pace and was near perfect to my eyes and ears, gone in a flash but very memorable.

The rule of thumb in theatre is one hour of rehearsal for one minute of stage time and that is with lyrics and lines learnt. I know that’s not possible for Parish Players but in pantomime certain key elements must be rehearsed for a long time to build up the actors confidence and pace. Those cast members who had spent time developing their characters and rehearsing their performance stood out.

Having said that Parish Players know it’s audience and gives them exactly what they want but thankfully they no longer know their limitations. This show was polished and demonstrated that as a company they can come together to stage a production that exceeds audience expectations.

Maggie Chick but especially Chris Abbott are to be warmly congratulated, as together they have put on a traditional pantomime to warm the heart and lift the spirits following difficult times around the world.

To watch pantomime should be an escape and escape we did, but to watch young Toby Conyers; well that was just a joy.

John Bohan

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