To give these enthusiastic students credit, it is not easy to pull off a pantomime. Because everything must be played at levels of one hundred per cent, any gusto lacking on the part of a single cast member will stand out like a sore thumb. If they had a cast who performed across the board as well as some of the stand-out players, this review would likely be very different.
To the plot: Dick Whittington and his articulate feline companion travel to London for riches and glory, where they meet an attractive woman (Alice), her father (Alderman), and a dame (Sarah Botulism). It all starts to lose me a bit after that: there’s an anthropomorphised rat who wears a crown and he gets riled that there’s a similarly anthropomorphised cat about. To remedy this, he has Dick Whittington banished to France. Then he chooses to execute the others, because it will allow him to take over the world. He seems to forget about the cat.
The show had an unapologetically straightforward intent: a bawdy romp for an adult audience. Great – if the show hadn’t itself felt like it was apologising. This problem was probably best articulated by the songs to which they continuously returned throughout the show. Despite their frequency, the cast never looked quite comfortable actually performing them. They didn’t have to be any good – they just needed to commit. Between the shaky-voiced singers and the entirely bewildered-looking backing dancers, it could nonetheless have been entertaining if they had just demonstrated some genuine enjoyment. It brought a smile to my face, for example, when a member of the ensemble cheered after having pulled off a tricky piece of choreography in the final number of the show. Who cares if they mess up the moves if we know they’re having a laugh?
However, for a university society whose sole concern is pantomime, there was a surprising undercurrent of self-doubt unsettling for an audience to watch. Certain cast members looked like they were trying to remember lines; others like they forgot they were on stage when they weren’t talking – or just not really that interested at all. It was a shame, because the show was not without merit. Some members of the cast were very good: Oliver Poole was a delight to watch as Sarah Botulism, as were the histrionic outbursts of Matt Watt and Tom Bridges as King Rat and Alderman respectively. Though underused, Leah Powell exhibited a sense of comic timing as an evil minion that outshone others in larger roles. There were also some very funny gags to be had: the evil teacups, the narrator’s rewrites to the script and the minions’ plans to upset Dick Whittington.
Unfortunately, the strong was too burdened by the weak: the script full of more phallic jokes than my year eight exercise books (I stopped counting at twenty) and the piece too dependent on the whole ensemble to sustain itself with the efforts of the few. They try, bless them, but it was all just a bit… pantomime.