Dick Whittington And His Cat

Published April 17, 2008

As a cynical adult, you forget how enthusiastic kids can be about pantomime: booing and hissing at the baddie, shouting ‘he’s behind you’, pointing so vigorously at the bogieman standing behind the panto dame that it seems they really do believe she hasn’t noticed him. Last night’s performance was as much about the audience as it was about the performers, as it should be, and Mark Ravenhill’s first attempt at a pantomime has all the traditional elements to get kids participating from their seats. Caroline Bishop went to watch…

Chosen by the Barbican because of its links to the City of London, Dick Whittington And His Cat tells the story of a boy, played in true panto tradition by a girl (Summer Strallen), who comes to London from Gloucester to seek his fortune, falls in love, befriends a karate-kicking cat and makes an enemy of an evil, man-sized rat who wants to take over the city.

The team has seized upon the London theme to make this panto a very London affair, with a song about Cheapside and many a gag referencing the city, including the obligatory jab at the congestion charge. Even the characters reflect London’s varied inhabitants – rather than sporting a Gloucester accent, Strallen is a particularly Sloaney Whittington, and the spherical Fairy BowBells has a twinge of Pat Butcher about her as she bobs about in her glitzy puffball dress screeching London ‘taaaan’.

The cartoon-like storyline is embellished by Michael Howells’s drawn-on pop-up book set and the fantastically colourful costumes, none more so than the extravagant wardrobe of the panto dame herself, Sarah The Cook, played with a particular tawdriness by Roger Lloyd Pack. Salacious Sarah prances – or rather staggers, as though she had a few too many the night before – around the stage in an eclectic assortment of costumes that are a cross between the attire of Vivienne Westwood and Barbara Cartland. It’s surely the only time in his life Lloyd Pack has worn a gold bikini, and though a slightly disturbing sight, he does have remarkably good legs.

While the first half is London set, in the second Ravenhill delves further into farcical fantasy, taking the characters to sea, where they are shipwrecked, ending up in Morocco. Howells’s set meets the challenge beautifully, particularly in an underwater scene in which luminescent jellyfish bob across the stage, and in the sultan’s palace (yes there is a sultan, and he’s called Keith) in Morocco, a visual treat. The slapstick ups a notch after the interval too, with Sarah and Totally Lazy Jack (Danny Worters) attempting to cook in a rocking ship’s galley, even if the set’s movement ruined the pie-in-the face gag. But hey, things going wrong are all part of the fun.

Ravenhill’s panto is a saucy, rambunctious affair, with plenty of jokes for the adults, a hero, a villain (the dastardly evil King Rat, played by Nickolas Grace), a dame, and a plethora of unrelated goings on that are all in the panto spirit. The kids were pointing and shouting to the end.

CB