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Dick Whittington and His Cat review at Cambridge Arts Theatre – ‘verve, humour and inventiveness’

Matt Crosby and Robert Duncan in Dick Whittington at Cambridge Arts Theatre. Photo: Richard Hubert-Smith

It takes real flair to make a classic pantomime feel fresh. Happily, in their third collaboration for the Cambridge Arts Theatre, Al Morley and Matt Crosby bring verve, humour and inventiveness to the ever-popular tale of Dick Whittington and His Cat.

Doubling as the Dame, co-writer Crosby is a charismatic presence poised between haughty and naughty, retaining a stately dignity behind all the splattering fluids and flawlessly-executed pratfalls.

Director Carole Todd is unafraid to let a little emotion pierce the cheerfulness, giving the show some satisfying depth, while a palpable sense of theatrical playfulness suffuses her staging. A simple but delightful perspective trick introduces Daniel Cummins as Tommy the Cat, who grows dramatically in size as he approaches the audience through the alleys of London. A spot of flirting between Crosby and an audience member ends with a hastily-written banner announcing their nuptials.

Paul Nicholas heads the cast as a scenery-chewing, Shakespeare-quoting King Rat, his resonant voice and unsettling composure giving him the manner of Walter White possessed by the unquiet spirit of David Bowie. Holly Easterbrook is a wily, quick-witted Whittington, largely incidental to the unfolding story, but shining when she belts out a soaring version of Finding Neverland showstopper Stronger to close the first act.

The music is catchy and impressive, a mix of high-energy pop and soft rock. Kevan Allen’s choreography makes full use of the compact stage, keeping the space constantly full of crisp movement and balletic dance.

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Verdict
Breezy, subtly sophisticated take on the perennial panto favourite
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