Panto season is in full swing. DAVID WHETSTONE meets face to face with Dick Whittington
IT’S early for a panto, 10am, but the kids from Excelsior Academy in Scotswood were up for it, so were the other school parties in a boisterous audience and so, clearly, were the cast. Their enthusiasm proved infectious.
Written and directed by Brendan Healy, this is a proper panto which succeeds partly because it doesn’t stray too much from the adage about the old’uns being the best’uns.
This is an affectionate reference to the songs (how good to hear All The Nice Girls Love A Sailor belted out in a venue which might almost pre-date it) and some of the gags.
But it also applies to Brendan, who knows exactly what it takes to make a Geordie audience laugh, and the enduring Maxie and Mitch double act (that’s Max Peters and Billy Mitchell) who’ve been around the panto block in daft costumes a few times.
Goodness, Max even boasts in the programme that he’s played more than a dozen characters in over 1,000 performances. Well, he ought to know what he’s doing by now, shouldn’t he?
Alderman Fitzwarren (Kevin O’Keefe) is planning a voyage to Morocco and rather glamorous Queen Rat (Jayne MacKenzie) has a dastardly plan to thwart him.
On that slender thread are hung ample opportunities for the cast to make us all laugh our heads off.
Billy, who plays Long John Slavver to Max’s Captain Scuttle, knows you can’t go wrong in panto with a lisp when political correctness is partially suspended for the duration.
So he makes a lot of good capital out of it. And guess where he comes from? Seaton Sluice, of course.
Impressionist Terry Joyce climbs into female attire (well, sort of) for his very first panto performance as Bessie the Cook. “I’m very good at impersonating men,” she says.
But all the oldies – and I exclude young Ms MacKenzie from that category – are well supported by the younger members of the cast: Catherine MacCabe as Dick, Charlie Richmond as Idle Jack, Samantha Phyllis Morris as Alice Fitzwarren and Emily Swan as a lithe and lovely Moggie the Cat who proves you can slink in high heels. Emily is also the choreographer and has drilled a very good troupe of dancers.
And let’s not forget the lads in the band.
Their repertoire may not have strayed too far beyond the 1980s – if we set aside that ubiquitous Go Compare insurance ditty – but they perform with aplomb.
The sets and costumes are jolly, there’s a lovely underwater scene (“Very therapeutic” muttered my hung over friend) and if it looks a bit like a retro panto, the kids aren’t to know and the adults – while they’re laughing – won’t care.
In any case, for retro you could just as easily say traditional. Three cheers for that.
Dick Whittington at The Journal Tyne Theatre until January 2.