Chipping Norton.

by Ben Crocker.

The Theatre To 9 January 2010.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.

TICKETS: 01608 642350.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 5 December.

A happy experience all round.
Apart from anything else, there’s sheer delight in finding this professionally-operating Theatre in a small Cotswold town (originally a Salvation Army Citadel, it was designed by a company which built Victorian music halls; they clearly knew about sightlines and acoustics). And to come across its annual in-house pantomime, usually with local inflections. OK, Whittington R’s adventures have to occur mostly in the metropolis – but guess what route he takes to reach it. And when he and his rat-attack friends set off on the waves to Morocco, it’s in the good ship Chippy Sark.

That’s no better – or worse – than many a panto joke or reference, but as always done with such happy charm as to be friendly to audiences of virtually any age. A couple of brief double entendres slipped dutifully in won’t have younger spectators puzzled, and Ben Crocker’s admirably clear script tells an interesting story, with hero Dick wrongly accused of theft, Idle Jack implicating him out of jealousy over the blonde and beautiful Alice Fitzwarren – who alone keeps faith in Whittington’s honesty – while behind it all the cheerily unscrupulous King Rat orchestrates the mischief.

The Theatre’s new Artistic Director John Terry provides a production which also moves the action along, on a small stage that accommodates Alderman Fitzwarrren’s shop, with its huge, anachronistic safe (contrasting a ridiculously small money-bag that gets tea-leafed), and a ship’s prow which revolves to reveal a cutaway boat-deck. Humour, especially over the possibility of Paul Lacoux’s identical characters simultaneously appearing, and Thomas Johnson’s highly pleasant score, from boogying medievalism to music-hall, are deftly performed by cast and keyboard regular Peter Pontzen plus Gemma Moore on wind instruments great and small.

The humans are good (including Edward Simpson standing-in for Laurence Aldridge, presumably indisposed rather than taking his character to extremes), but there’s particular pleasure in the contrast between Shaun Hennessy’s swaggering, tail-carrying King Rat and the loyal feline benignity of Emma Carroll’s Tommy.

Add William Fricker’s bright designs, and the whole show, from the milestone-like notice a panto’s about to begin, to one saying it’s ended, is a highly pleasant delight.

Idle Jack: Laurence Aldridge.
Sarah the Cook: Ian Blower.
Tommy the Cat: Emma Carroll.
Alice Fitzwarren/Fairy Bowbells: Jessica Ellerby.
King Rat: Shaun Hennessy.
Alderman Fitzwarren/Horatio/Sultan of Morocco: Paul Lacoux.
Dick Whittington: Jason Langley.
Swings: Eve Norman, Elizabeth Moulson.
Red Pippins: Sophie Keningale, Pghilip Herbert, Will Young, Georgia Lock.
Blue Pippins: Rebecca Witchell, Freddie Turner, Thomas Burman, Maddy Meeson.

Director: John Terry.
Designer: Will Fricker.
Lighting: Amy Southeard.
Composer/Musical Director: Thomas Johnson.
Choreographer/Assistant director: Tim Claydon.
Fight director: David Durrant.

2009-12-07 09:34:31

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