I had the absolute pleasure of attending the Bristol Hippodromes Pantomime of 2014, Dick Whittington and what a delight it was. This English, annual tradition, is an explosion of family fun entertainment, that shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
An unusual start to the performance was the advertisement from the panto sponsors, Littlewoods. This was a stark reminder to the modern corporate influence infiltrating our daily lives, which appears to be spreading to live theatre. However, it was a singular advert which appeared at the beginning of the show, after the interval and mentioned (not through video) during the audience participation segment towards the end of the show; the children’s prizes were provided by the sponsors and appears that an audience member also won an undisclosed prize too. Although this was surprising, it did not diminish the overall atmosphere or hinder any aspect in enjoying the performance.
The advantage of modern technology in theatre, aside advertisement opportunities, is that it can enhance a performance and audience understanding; this was demonstrated by the video prologue to the performance which referenced the history of the great British pantomime. This great, 300, year old tradition evokes the spirit of Christmas of togetherness, magic, light-hearted fun and the traditions we follow year on year. The only other snippet of technology during this performance was the use of 3D video. Although great in concept, I felt was lacking in this particular instance as it didn’t really add any value to the overall story. Saying that, of course for young children, the underwater sequence, reminiscent of Disney’s Finding Nemo, offers a multi-sensory experience and is likely to grasp their attentions for longer.
If you put aside the videos and modern effects, there is no doubt that this production is another pantomime of the highest quality with a collective of top class performances from an enthusiastic cast.
Andy Ford back for Bristol’s pantomime for the sixth consecutive time (22nd appearance overall), portraying Idle Jack, is a local gem. His mannerisms, portrayal of his character and overall performance won’t be anything new to those who have seen him before, however, if you have seen him before, you’ll know this familiarity is no bad thing. Bristol pantomime is alive with Andy Ford on stage and wouldn’t be the same without him.
It was very challenging to despise the villainous Rat Queen played by Lara Denning who gave an outstanding and almost show-stealing performance, which I quite liken to Glenn Closes’ Cruella De Vil. Her theatrical experience is clearly evident in this production which was highlighted through her impeccable rendition of Ella Henderson’s Ghost.
Ben Faulks, BBC’s Mr Bloom, is so evidently the children’s favourite and all-rounder great performer. He was a fantastic Dick Whittington, he was charming, charismatic and what he puts his hand to on stage is projected effortlessly.
I was initially sceptical about the stars of the Panto, Ashleigh and Pudsey, but after watching them on stage; it is so very clear how this duo won the hearts of Britain’s Got Talent judges in 2012, and is still successful today. Pudsey was adorable (plenty of aww’s from the crowd), obedient and clearly revelling in his role on stage (plenty of cute tail wagging). He not on stage for entire duration of the show but every time he appears everyone is absolutely besotted with him. With regards to Ashleigh, who is the leading lady of the show, she is a performer, absolutely, in her own right and clearly having the time of her life. It was wonderful to see these two; they were the pinnacle of wonderment and joy.
This revival of Dick Whittington is light-hearted, silly, family fun. It has been written to include a number of local references and clearly a lot of thought and research has been taken into account. Andy Ford and Eric Potts (Sarah the Cook and writer and director of this production) are comical accomplices, their one-liners and witty comebacks add that element of slap-stick comedy loved by all; the true expectation of pantomime fun.
Overall, if you are looking for a delightful, family enthused, fun-filled time over Christmas, Bristol’s Dick Whittington is your solution. It comes highly recommended.
Available until Sunday 4th January; Tickets are available online at ATG: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/dick-whittington/bristol-hippodrome/#showinfotabs=showtimes