Gallery: Cambridge Arts Theatre: This year's pantomime is Christmas entertainment at its best

By John Elworthy THE nice chap who introduced himself to me before last night s opening of Dick Whittington as the theatre s financial controller had, when I spotted him at the cast party later, the look of a cat that had got the cream. Any uncertainties

By John Elworthy

THE nice chap who introduced himself to me before last night's opening of Dick Whittington as the theatre's financial controller had, when I spotted him at the cast party later, the look of a cat that had got the cream.

Any uncertainties he might have been fretting over by staging such a lavish production at the tail end of a recession would have dissipated within the first few moments of the curtain rising.

Dick Whittington and His Cat is billed as traditional pantomime but in reality is more akin to the warm, feel good effect that only variety theatre can provide and this particular show is Christmas entertainment at its superlative best.

Writer, director and panto dame Brad Fitt knows his audience of old (this is his ninth season in various forms with the Arts Theatre panto) but never once takes them for granted. His is an accomplished performance as you could wish for, deploying more costume changes, and probably more colourful too, than the entire shop window of an Evans outsize dress shop.

He neither plays to the children in the audience or plays down to them, enrapturing young and old alike in a make believe piece of delightful theatrical nonsense that embraces music as diverse as Michael Jackson, the Village People and Gilbert and Sullivan. It's a tuneful, well choreographed, uplifting and delightful romp through the familiar tale of the wanderlust youngster arriving in London to seek his fame and fortune.

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On the way we're treated to a plague of rats, a devilish performance by James Hirst as King Rat, and an eventful sea journey to Morocco aboard the boat of Alderman Fitzwarren (John Pennington) which provides the back drop for resolving the love affair between Dick (Julie Buckfield) and Alice and their eventual return home in triumph to a wedding and, ultimately, him becoming Lord Mayor.

A barrage of one liners, some as old as the hills but others refreshingly topical, remind you of a Ken Dodd marathon, and is none the worse for that.

This is a polished, confident and wondrous show. Matt Crosby (of whom the programme notes, oddly, that he was the face of the Spanish Football Pools in Madrid) is cast as Idle Jack but he may be Idle by name but most certainly not by nature in a near faultless performance.

And if you're wondering why no mention of the feline that shares top billing, then allow me to introduce you to Tommy the Cat, a truly outstanding performance by the relative novice Kaine Horey.

His theatrical antecedents may occupy fewer sentences that his colleagues but here's definitely a rising star. His comic timing is impeccable and the athletic accomplishments he brought to the role (cartwheels and double somersaults to name but two) left the audience aghast.

There may be other shows on in the area this Christmas and these may compete for your family budget but for good old fashioned, rock solid dependable entertainment this year's Art Theatre production will find few equals.

(Dick Whittington runs until January 17: box office, 01223 503333)

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