What comes round once a year? Why it’s the Hastings White Rock Theatre Christmas Pantomime of course (Oh yes it does!)
I went along to their Sunday December 15th afternoon matinee where I found the theatre absolutely jam packed with mums and dads with excited children in tow.
The venue was buzzing in anticipation of a great afternoon and a number of children were to be seen waving around their fluorescent sparkly hand held sticks.
This year’s pantomime was of course Dick Whittington but did you know that Dick Whittington was a real life character? (oh yes he was!) Richard (Dick) Whittington was in fact a medieval merchant and a politician and is believed to have been the inspiration for what essentially was an English folk tale.
Dick Whittington was indeed four times Lord Mayor of London and also a Member of Parliament and a sheriff of London.
It would seem to me, based on the success of this initially medieval merchant who rose through the ranks of English politics that some bright spark had the idea to turn his success into a play which then developed into what we now know as a pantomime (the first stage play being 1605 and the first proper pantomime version in 1814)
Anyway enough of the factual historical record what about the White Rock’s version?
Well other than a twist where Dick went to Morocco (there is no evidence that he did so and that there is no historical record that he ever had a cat that part was added on later) the pantomime sticks closely to the known facts of his life.
This year cast members were Sheila Reid as (Fairy Bowbells) better known as Madge Harvey from the T.V. Sitcom ‘Benidorm’
We also had Will Haswell playing (Dick Whittington), Jimmy Johnston played Sarah the Cook, Lewis Kirk played Tommy Jones the cat, Abigail Matthews played the love of Dick’s life (Alice Fitzwarren) Mark Pearce played (King Rat), whilst Ben Watson had young and old children alike screaming their heads off in his wonderful and energetic role as (Simple Simon) who for me was the star of the show.
All of the above cast members have major television and theatre plays under their belt and their charisma and panache clearly showed in their performance.
Sheila Reid (Fairy Bowbells) came onto the stage in her motorised scooter with the familiar Benidorm tune playing through the speakers.
As the story progressed we see Dick Whittington head for the City of London where he is told the streets are paved with gold, finding that they are not, he lies down tired and alone in front of the house of the Fitzwarrens where after he meets up with the cook played by Jimmy Johnstone.
Dick is then catapulted into a journey of not only ridding a house of rats, but trying to catch the eye and fall in love with Alice Fitzwarren herself, but his advances are occasionally halted by Ben Watson playing Simple Simon who also has an eye for Alice.
Ben (Simple Simon) had the large audience in stitches with his one liners and also when he appeared on stage shouting out to the audience “Who lives in a pineapple under the sea”? Of which the children in the audience all screamed back, Spongebob squarepants”
By now the kids were really getting into the spirit of this magical pantomime, many of which I’m sure have never been to a pantomime before, and when King Rat came on stage in a puff of smoke he immediately got booed by the children.
King Rat said that Hastings people were not only scruffy but ugly as well of which increased the volume of boos and hisses. (Wonderful stuff)
A big surprise certainly for me, was the entrance of Dick’s cat, not played by someone in a fluffy cat suit as I expected it to be, rather the cat was played by a young handsome bare chested actor (Lewis Kirk) who nimbly danced across the stage and was never away from Dick’s side.
During the course of the pantomime, actress Sheila Reid was to be seen slowly gliding in the air above the stage atop a quarter silver moon (thankfully she was strapped in securely) and waving her magic wand, she added grace to this fine production.
Being a pantomime there were of course the obligatory songs such as the Monkees ‘I’m a Believer’ Go West by the Pet Shop Boys and more, all woven into the storyline and all sung and danced to perfection by the cast.
Needless to say the ‘he’s behind you gag’ was well introduced into the pantomime where a few gorillas came onto the back of the stage behind some of the cast members at which point the children in the audience raised the roof of the White Rock with “He’s behind you”
I don’t think my ears have recovered!
The various backdrop sets looked superb and fitted the storyline perfectly and probably one of the best rehearsed gags of the night was the chocolate story gag where some members of the cast brought a combination of chocolate bars onto a desk which comprised of a Yorkie bar, a Bounty bar and more which they wove into a long story (check it out when you go there yourself it’s hilarious and well thought out)
Simple Simon played by Ben Watson had the large audience singing along with the piano song and all the kids in front of me had their arms stretched out in front of them with fingers playing an imaginary piano, great stuff.
A few members of the audience near the front of the stage managed to get slightly wet as King Rat once more took to the stage in a puff of smoke armed this time with an enormous water pistol which he proceeded to spray the first few rows.
At the end of the day this was a fun filled magical pantomime full of song, music and laughs played to perfection by a great cast who kept the large White Rock Theatre entertained.
It takes a lot of people to put on a show this good and the writer, Director and choreographer (amongst a number of others) should be congratulated for making this show what it is, which is a great family show and entertainment at its best.
Don’t miss it.