Review: Rock’n’Roll Dick Whittington at Leeds City Varieties

Thursday December 1st 2022 at Leeds City Varieties.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

London Town. Icky rat infestation eyeing the Alderman’s office. Silliness and mucky puns and Rock ‘n’ Roll. It’s Panto time at Leeds City Varieties!

Okay, okay, so there’s a bit more to it, but fighting for the heart of the Alderman’s daughter is side-kick to the Rat King take-over mission at the centre of this show. In truth, the tale itself is maybe not as strong as other panto offerings (personal preference here, obviously – stop that booing and hissing you lot), but Peter Rowe’s writing of this version and Rob Salmon’s direction of this fab cast do a very good job of bringing out the best of Dick’s offerings.

And when the show is Dick Whittington, you can bet there will be jokes aplenty of the eyebrow raising variety. Who better to land each and every one with just the right smirk or slap of the knee but panto royalty Simon Nock? At this point many of us don’t consider it Christmas theatre season until we’ve seen the indefatigable Nock in action and he doesn’t disappoint with the very cheeky Sarah the Cook. It’s a performance all the more impressive considering the curtain call speech thanking the team for carrying on while he was in hospital last week. What a guy, what a dame and what a star Nock is!

Who joins the grand dame this year? A top bunch indeed. Ben Mabberley is a perfectly charming Dick Whittington, Rhiannon Hopkins is a sassy and lithe side-kick as Tabby the Cat and Claire Keenan brings West End sincerity to the role of the much adored Alice Fitzwarren. Alice’s Alderman pa is Kenny Davies, who comically channels an unmistakeable exaggerated Elvis look and swagger.

Daniel Miles is a wonderful twit as Billy Bungalow, bringing plenty of fun slapstick centre stage and Ben Stratton is our dastardly King Rat who does well to secure his enthusiastic boos even when the audience forgets their cue. Lana Walker’s take on the Fairy is truly certifiably CBeebies at its jolliest – little ‘uns will love her just as much as the grown-ups love Nock.

Dawn Allsopp’s designs offer plenty of opportunities for rat-spotting and villain-portals and quite apart from the dame’s quirky get-ups, designs for Alice champion the power of intertextual costuming. There’s an introductory Heathers-esque privately educated princess look which shifts to a notably leather-clad Sandy Dee look – clever shorthand to invite some worry about whether or not she’ll actually go to the dark side!

Choreography from Maggie Rawlinson gives Tabby some excellent moves for seeing off the Rat King and there’s a general sense of lively fun to all of the musical numbers – assisted very nicely by Tim Oliver’s dance party lighting. Musical director Bex Hughes takes us through some cracking crowd-pleasing numbers including “Walking on Sunshine”, “Tainted Love”, “Uptown Girl” and “I Need a Hero”. It’s always one of the highlights of this particular panto that we have actor-musos doubling as characters and live on-stage band, adding an extra layer of entertainment and highlighting the broad talents of the cast.

So, it’s another great year for the City Varieties panto – plenty of fun to be had, lots of toe-tapping and gleeful heckling to be done and a good dose of anticipation for next year’s offering successfully planted in hearts and minds. Catch it if you can!

Rock’n’Roll Dick Whittington is at Leeds City Varieties until January 8th 2023 – you can find more information and tickets here.

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