Christmas Review



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The Charles Court Opera in association with the Rosemary Branch Theatre

Dick Whittington

 Directed by John Savournin

Musical Director:  James Young

Set Design:  James Perkins

Rosemary Branch Theatre

18 December 2009 – 10 January 2010







ary Couzens

A review by Chad Armitstead for EXTRA! EXTRA!


‘What was Mr. Whittington’s first name?  Whatever it is, I can’t stop thinking about him.’

The Charles Court Opera does panto like no one else.  I was a sceptic when I heard their Dick Whittington would be part operatic.  Visions of children sleeping, as fat men push unintelligible passion through their throats sprang like Christmas nightmares to my mind.  I’m not averse to opera, but children certainly aren’t begging Santa for English National Opera tickets in their stockings.  Charles Court Opera may change that.

The CCO’s Dick Whittington has as its villain a rat, what else?  King Rat, no less.  Alderman Fitzwarren has hired Idle Jack, the son of his cook Dolly Dumpling (the show’s drag dame), as an assistant in his shop.  Despite the hint in his name, Alderman Fitzwarren is then surprised when Idle Jack turns out to be lazy.  Fitzwarren demotes Jack, making him Dolly’s assistant in the kitchen.  Enter Dick (Whittington).  Fitzwarren hires the recently-arrived-in-London boy and his cat as assistant and resident rat exterminator, respectively.  Dick’s rise from shop assistant to Mayor of London is begun.  But King Rat has other ideas.  He frames Dick for a crime he doesn’t commit.  Fitzwarren fires Dick then sets off to sell ineffective rat poison to the Sultan of Morocco.

That all sounds reasonable enough, right?

Director John Savournin and his CCO bring their insane brand of “ultra panto” back to the Rosemary Branch Theatre this year.  The ultra cosy environs of the Rosie make their show inescapably engaging.  I left with the warm, overwhelming sense that I had just spent an evening laughing at the pub with my closest friends.  Such is the charm of the cast.

Savournin straps on the falsies to bring Dolly Dumpling to iridescent life—somehow both droopy and flamboyant.  His masculine matron keeps the eye-watering comedy from becoming self-indulgent.  Savournin brings the cast and audience back down to Earth, marshalling the show forward when the deliciously daft jokes threaten to stop it.

Sebastian Valentine’s twitchy King Rat effortlessly oozes evil over the proceedings, reaching maximum spill in a seductive and slimy rendition of Britney Spears’ Toxic.

Dick takes the undeniably womanly shape of Rosie Strobel, a casting decision that pays off big.  Strobel delivers the endless innuendo about Dick and his pussycat Tom with all the puffed-chest gusto of a hero cutting the damsel free of the railroad tracks.  Strutting across the stage with the head-cocking of a rooster, her shining moments include a riotous duet with Alice (Helen Wilding) about a dream life in a house in Milton Keynes (of course) to the tune of “Somewhere That’s Green” from Little Shop of Horrors.

Robin Bailey gives a warm canine loyalty to Tom the cat, while affecting his movement with the feline.  The children are certainly keen to protect his affable tomcat when King Rat plots against him, the true mark of a successful panto performance.

As the daughter of Fitzwarren, Helen Wilding delivers one double entendre after another with delightful naïve vivacity.  She plays a brilliant counterpoint to her disco-nostalgic father.

Kevin Kyle’s narcoleptic Idle Jack is endlessly amiable and has children screaming ‘wakey, wakey, Idle Jack’ with huge smiles as he persists in falling asleep at every task.

Lydia Jenkins brings powerful pipes and an airy affability to her Fairy-turned narrator and James Young and David Eaton bring the mad humour of hapless sailors as Skipper and Scupper.  The latter are a duo reminiscent of the one from Pirates of the Caribbean headed up by Mackenzie Crook’s idiot with a glass eye.  Eaton and Young also take on keyboard duties and Young directs the inventive and eclectic music.

Undoubtedly one of the true gems of the evening is Simon Masterson-Smith’s too-old, but still trying to be ‘street’ Alderman Fitzwarren.  Obviously the dregs of the disco generation, Alderman Fitzwarren is as convinced of his hip-ness as we are of his hilarity.  How Masterson-Smith delivers lines like ‘he’s a safe homie, is-n’t-it?’ while keeping a straight face is one of the mysteries that make up the magic of the show.

You’d never know the CCO is a newer company (Savournin founded it in 2005).  Their shows’ designs and production value are consistently accomplished and Dick Whittington is no exception.  Designer James Perkins turns the Rosie as convincingly into the Alderman’s store as he does into a ship to Morocco, while blending three musicians seamlessly into the melee.

It’s got the drag and droll of panto, but the CCO’s show brims with true musical accomplishment.  You find yourself laughing at the songs through true shock and amazement at the cast’s operatic achievement.  The lyrics have been playfully twisted from their original forms and the effect is a show that evokes the wacky genius of Gilbert and Sullivan.

It’s hard to encapsulate the humour and level of intimate engagement in the CCO’s latest offering.  Their show is truly a unique delight among pantos.  They are deviously daring in their audience participation tactics and they truly excite their spectators.

You’ll leave warmed up by an evening with the cast, ready for Christmas, and unable to forget the night you spent with that amazing—er—Mr. Whittington.


Box office:  020 7704 6665

18, 19, 21, 22, 27- 31 December and 2, 3 January 7:00pm 
£15 (£12 concessions) 

5-10 January 7:00pm  All seats £15
19, 20, 27, 31 December and 2, 3, 9, 10 January  2.30pm 
All seats £10, under 5s go free

New Year's Eve performances - includes free glass of fizz!







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