Three Prime Ministers, two Monarchs, strikes and a pending nuclear war. What do we want to end the year – PANTO! Oh yes we really do! If ever we needed to forget everything and revert to childhood for a couple of hours then the time is now.

Simon Nock and his cohorts were back to give us a great night of singing, dancing, amazing music and of course – smut. There is nothing like a good double entendre, and there were plenty of them about along with quite a lot of single entendres. It doesn’t take a genius to work out where they were going to come from, what with Dick being the hero along with his sidekick, a pussy cat named Tabby. And so it was, so I stiffened my resolve and held myself in readiness, hoping for a big hand at the climax. You get the drift. By the way, those are my contributions, I am in the wrong job, but you all knew that anyway.

Ben Mabberley as Dick Whittington

Rhiannon Hopkins as Tabby Cat

The story?! was that of a young Leeds lad, Dick Whittington, played by Ben Mabberley, who arrives in London with his cat, Tabby (Rhiannon Hopkins), seeking his fame and fortune. He bumps into, and falls in love with, Alice Fitzwarren (Claire Keenan) whose father is, and how’s this for co-incidence, Alderman Fitzwarren (Kenny Davies) the outgoing Lord Mayor of London, and influential businessman. When he meets Dick, he offers him a job to replace his current assistant Billy Bungalow (Daniel Miles) so called because he has nothing upstairs, Billy that is, not Daniel. He also has the task of appointing his mayoral successor. The City is being plagued by rats and so he says that he will appoint whomever can rid the place of the vermin.

Claire Keenan as Alice and Ben Stratton, King Rat Booooooo!

There is only one candidate for the post and that is King Rat (Ben Stratton) who rules the sewers with his henchmen, Rat Scurvy (James Hudson) and Rat Smallpox(Timothy Roberts), so can order them cleared. He also happens to fancy Alice Fitzwarren. When he hears that he has a potential rival for both mayor and Alice, he kidnaps the latter and holds her hostage in the sewers where only he has access.

You’ll never guess what happens next. Dick and Tabby rescue Alice, with the help of Fairy (Lana Walker) who is also the narrator, and King Rat is drowned in a flurry of slurry, so to speak.

Kenny Davies as Alderman Fitzwarren and Daniel Miles as Billy Bungalow

All of the above is basically superfluous to the evening, it just gives the audience a cast of goodies and baddies who we can cheer for or boo. Both of which we did to the echo. The main character, as usual, is the one played by Simon Nock, this year it is Sarah the Cook, so not only did we have an abundance of Dick jokes, but also ones about buns, baps and various other confectionery products. Well, we would, what with Sarah being, as she put it a Master baker, that one needs saying out loud!

Peter Manchester as Sarah

As usual, there was a member of the audience who was chosen as the stooge for the evening, this time it was Xavier who, by another co-incidence was sitting in the same seat as the chaps who got picked on in previous years. We press corps were ensconced in the back row of the stalls so we considered ourselves safe but this year’s battle of the water guns was more of a guerrilla war and the cast conducted it from each side of the auditorium using the audience as a human shield. There was also an advance from the rear, not a joke from the panto, so we took a soaking as well. Literally good, clean fun.

Sarah kept reappearing for set pieces in different costumes throughout the show, each one more flamboyant than the last, to interact with the audience. I thought that the jokes were pitched pretty well, with silly ones for the kids and sillier ones, if more risqué, for the adults.

Tim Roberts as Rat Smallpox, James Hudson as Rat Scurvy and Lana Walker who played Fairy – and a rat!

The versatility of the cast of these rock’n’roll pantos never ceases to amaze me. All of them have to be able to sing, dance and play musical instruments, which they do to a very acceptable level. The songs ranged from ballads such as The First Cut is the Deepest, to out and out rockers like Dead Ringer for Love, so quite a vocal challenge. The instruments ranged from guitar, drums and saxophones to Sarah’s maracas – behave!

As well as being a great team of performers there was no ego involved and I found it very generous and touching that Simon Nock asked the audience to give a round of applause, not only to the cast but also the staff of the City Varieties and the volunteers who make the whole thing work. He also acknowledged the contribution made by Peter Manchester who had to step into the not inconsiderably sized shoes of his for the first few performances when Mr Nock was taken ill.

The cast

Another great thing about pantomime is, because they are primarily aimed at children, they finish earlier than most other shows and so a couple of us decided to have a beer to celebrate the festive season in the White Swan next door. A lovely way to end a great evening of fun and frolics. And we all know what frolics rhymes with, don’t we children!

Dick Whittington runs until 8th January, 2023 at Leeds City Varieties. For more information, to book seats and to read the downloadable programme which includes a playlist of the original versions of the songs in the show, please go to https://leedsheritagetheatres.com/whats-on/dick-whittington-panto/

All images provided by Leeds Heritage Theatres. The photographs are by Ant Robling but were taken when Peter Manchester was standing in for Simon Nock. You can’t tell the difference under all that make-up.

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