Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Curtain Rises on Slapstick at Its Finest; Pantomime Season Has Opened for Business across the North East in Thigh-Slapping, Swashbuckling and Pie-Throwing Fashion. Here, We Bring You a Trio of Panto Experiences. While Neil McKay Offers His Review of Dick Whittington in Durham, We Also Have Accounts from Sleeping Beauty in South Shields and Peter Pan in Newcastle

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Curtain Rises on Slapstick at Its Finest; Pantomime Season Has Opened for Business across the North East in Thigh-Slapping, Swashbuckling and Pie-Throwing Fashion. Here, We Bring You a Trio of Panto Experiences. While Neil McKay Offers His Review of Dick Whittington in Durham, We Also Have Accounts from Sleeping Beauty in South Shields and Peter Pan in Newcastle

Article excerpt

Dick Whittington, Gala Theatre until January 3 FOLLOWING a riproaring production of Aladdin last season, Durham Gala Theatre's latest panto was eagerly anticipated.

Much of the cast from last year are also part of this year's offering, Dick Whittington.

They include Seaham Harbour's own Neil Armstrong as the baddie King Rat, Donald McBride as the dame, and dynamic duo Jane Deane and Paul Hartley providing the slapstick as Bodd and Odd.

Ian Curran plays the title role and Victoria Holmes the love interest as Alice.

Proceedings got off to a noisy start when Armstrong, clad in leathers and chains astride a motorbike, sang Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell - but changed the words to Rat Out of Hell.

The plot, for what it is worth - and let's be fair, all panto plots are fairly weak - seems to be about the rats, led by Armstrong, trying to take over London, and Whittington, aided by Alice and her father (played by Steve Hawksby) trying to stop them.

After Whittington is framed for stealing from Alice's father's shop, he sets out to clear his name and, of course, succeeds in the end.

So much for the storyline, then.

There were laughs aplenty, as there ought to be in any self-respecting pantomime.

Deane and Hartley as Bodd and Odd provided entertainment with slapstick routines which could have been horribly embarrassing if they had gone wrong - but the fact they did not was a tribute to their skills.

Some of the jokes were as corny as you would expect. A character asked for a Wensceslas Pizza: "Deep pan, crisp pan, even". Geddit? McBride as Sarah the Cook played an identical role to his Widow Twankey last year and did so wonderfully.

He picked out two women in the audience, in this case Kay and Freda.

"Hello, Mrs Cannywoman," he said before including them in his dialogue from then on. But in truth, the production was something of a curate's egg - good in parts but with some flat bits too. There was lots of smutty innuendo involving the name Dick, which provoked guffaws from some of the juvenile adult members while thankfully going over the heads of the younger members of the audience.

Some of the dance routines, while impressive in their own right, seemed a little pointless.

Not that the opinion of this critic matters much.

It is the reaction of the youngsters in the audience which provides a true litmus test of how good a pantomime really is.

And, if memory serves me right, the responses were far lustier last year than this.

Nevertheless, the cast has until January 3 to iron out any of the opening-night glitches.

After all, Newcastle United lost a curtain raiser 6-1 to Leyton Orient and they aren't doing too badly now.

CANDLELIT CHORUS CAPELLA Novocastriensis is continuing its penchant for singing in unusual churches with a candlelit concert in Newcastle. …

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