Student Review: Dick Whittington by Joshua Shane Watts

A must-see adaptation of a classic pantomime, updated for a modern audience – young and old alike. 

Thu 30 Nov, Northcott Theatre
by Joshua Shane Watts

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Premiering on 30 Nov 2023, Dick Whittington has begun at the Exeter Northcott Theatre with an explosive opening night performance. Written by Daniel Buckroyd and Exeter-based physical-comedy company Le Navet Bete (returning to the Northcott after an incredibly successful collaboration on Robin Hood last year), the play provides an entertaining experience for audiences of all ages. Cleverly written characters and beautifully designed sets, as well as genius improvisation from the talented performers on stage, create a hilarious modern take on the classic rags-to-riches folk tale.

Arriving in London Town with nothing but the clothes on his back and a bindle full of nothing special, our protagonist Dick Whittington soon finds his reputation smeared by the scheming Queenie Rat and her mechanical rat minions. We follow him as he embarks on a turbulent journey alongside his cat companion Sox, to find a way to clear his name and seize his destiny as Lord Mayor. 

Dick Whittington Production Photo: Dick Whittington (Elliot Coombe) wears a loose white shirt and brown waistcoat; he stands back-to-back with Sox (Poppy Joy), a young woman dressed as a black-and-white cat; they are both crossing their arms.
Photo by Craig Fuller
Dick Whittington Production Photo: Queenie Rat (Stephanie Lysé) clenches her teeth and bares her claws at the camera, with her arms held aloft; she is wearing a studded red and black dress, with matted grey fur pantaloons and shoulder pads.
Photo by Craig Fuller

It’s been a long time since I last went to a panto, having not attended once since early secondary school at the latest. That being said, Dick Whittington was the best pantomime experience I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying.

With a charming cast of characters and an unexpected jukeboxmusical twist, the piece is filled with all the joy and whimsy so integral to winter panto. Each performer excels vocally, especially Stephanie Lysé, who sets the stage alight with her performance as Queenie Rat. Despite some very minor audio issues which are understandable for opening night, the musical numbers were grand, impressive, and most importantly, entertaining.

A great deal of the entertainment value came from how much seemed to go wrong, and how expertly the performers improvised past it. Their skilful handling of such incidents made it hard to discern if these moments were scripted or not – whether choosing to play off the mistake in character or breaking the fourth wall, the decision always seemed to be the right one. These moments became an absolute highlight of the show, intentional or not. Furthermore, the way the audience was incorporated into the performance was accessible to all – a highlight being the interactive singing segment in Act 2. There was no fear of being selected or excluded, just a fun and interactive experience for everyone no matter where you may be sitting. 

Dick Whittington production photo: Jack (Al Dunn) stands in the foreground of a ship set dressed as a sailor, with tattoo sleeves and bushy fake beard; he is pulling a buck-toothed expression and squinting.
Photo by Craig Fuller

Final Thoughts

With impressive vocal performances, wonderful set design, and a fun and jovial atmosphere among the cast, Dick Whittington was an absolute joy to see performed on opening night. The incredible talent of the cast and crew lends itself to a magical production that is an absolute must-see for those in need of some holiday cheer. 

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