No modern twists or star turns, few pyrotechnics, little by way of glitter and bling, but Fairy Bow Bells has sprinkled this Dick Whittington with magic dust and it sparkles from start to finish. There is something appealingly old-fashioned about the style of pantomime that Theatre Royal Winchester turns out and this year’s is an absolute cracker.
Many of the team at Winchester have been doing this for a long time now – the years put in by writer and director James Barry, composer Simon Slater and seasoned dame Julian Eardley are now in double figures.
They know what works here: strong story-telling, a sharp, funny script, engaging characters, original music played by a live band and so much audience participation that the audience of schoolchildren when I saw it threatened to blow the roof off. Bad puns and double entendres abound, but it’s essentially clean as a whistle and traditional to the core.
Ed Thorpe is a novice with just two previous TRW pantomimes under his belt, but he and Eardley form a well-honed double act that could have been together for years. True, it’s hard to see how Thorpe’s dim, diminutive Whittington could ever pull an upmarket lass like Joanna Brown’s statuesque Alice Fitzwarren, but we are willing him to succeed.
He has help from Jessie Angell’s acrobatic Cat and Libby Gore’s Bow Bells, who ensure that Kristopher Milnes’ geezer of a King Rat doesn’t win the day, and there is good support from Jon Bonner juggling three roles.