REVIEW: Dick Whittington panto at the AWT
When you see one of your children to your left standing up doing the twist, and the one to the right belting out ‘Five Golllllld Riiiiiiiings’ and your mum in hysterical laughter watching them, you know you’ve hit on a brilliant panto. Dick Whittington at the Ayelsbury Waterside Theatre is starting to feel as warm and cosy as my favourite pair of bedsocks. I’ve been for the last three years, always with Andy Collins as the local funny guy, and it’s one of those guaranteed fun nights out.
This year X-Factor winner Sam Bailey is the big name, but actually Melanie Masson who plays Queen Rat was a big X-Factor contender as well – I googled her when I got home, and really remember her now (kind of hard to picture her when she’s in her ratty gear), she was the one with the ginger long hair with kids who sang Janis Joplin and made it quite far into the comp. Both brilliant singers, Bailey was particularly effortless and edged it for me, though Masson was the better actress, or maybe just had the better lines – it’s tough for anyone to sound credible when they’re having to spout panto rhyming couplets.
The staging and costumes were both excellent this year – the panto dame’s outfits became more and more outrageous, culminating in her wearing a bell when Dick Whittington got married, and the dancers had some fantastic costumes – the sailors (above) looked great, but I particularly loved the bell-ringers at the end of the first half, all sparkly and gold and gorgeous to the eye.
As with almost every panto I go to, one half is always better than the other. The first half was a little slow, introducing the characters, setting up the story but the second half was absolutely hilarious, with the new ‘toilet-roll’ spin on the annual 12 Days of Christmas (you need to see it to understand but trust me, you will laugh), a great section where Andy Collins had four kids and an adult up on stage dancing, and a really brilliant sing-off duet between Sam Bailey and Melanie Masson.
A lip-synch battle between team Dick and team Evil was very funny too. And the dancers were excellent this year. Not sure where they came from but they were the most professional I’ve seen in a Waterside panto.
What wasn’t there to like? Well, the sound was a bit patchy with a couple of the singers (the microphone’s problem more than theirs), and I do get a bit irritated with so many pop songs in panto these days – as if the story is incidental to the music rather than the other way around. The first half jokes could do with tweaking, some of them fell a bit flat, but I’m sure that’s something that gets fine tuned night by night. Alice’s pronouncement at the end of the show that as long as she has Dick she’ll be OK is more along my style of humour, but there, I’m horrifically lacking in class.
Other than that, I remain utterly devoted to the Waterside panto, and the thrill of seeing my kids laughing their heads off, shouting and dancing. If you haven’t already booked your panto, this one’s a banker.