KYDS – Dick Whittington
Performed at Thurstable School, Friday 28th November 2014
Director – Alex Berriman, Musical Director – Tess Dunn
Friday night was a night of firsts for this reviewer; the first time at Thurstable School, the first review of a KYDS production and the first pantomime of the season. So it is perhaps appropriate that first impressions are reported. Plentiful free car parking and a friendly Front of House greeting were a good start and there was certainly an atmosphere of loyal community support in the auditorium. However, it quickly became apparent that the venue and the constraints that a working school imposes were and remain a source of frustration and limitation. The fact of having had to perform the technical and dress rehearsals the weekend before the show and then having had to get out and get in again, clearing the stage in the meantime, severely limited the ambition of the set. There were no backcloths or side flats, just a reversible set of contiguous flats that filled two thirds of the space. This did leave plenty to the imagination, which had to work overtime to fill in the gaps. Furthermore, the lighting was simply what the school provided, often lighting the whole front of the hall as well as the stage. As I understood it even such lighting as there was could be moved around between the get-in and the actual performance, putting severe time pressures on the technical staff to rejig before curtain up. Despite these structural handicaps, which were not the fault of KYDS, KYDS produced a very entertaining pantomime.
The key element was a very witty script that was very well delivered by everyone with dialogue. No lame one-liners and tired old jokes here but lots of modern material that didn’t offend anyone (except Victoria Beckham perhaps, but she’s fair game!). Notwithstanding the use of microphones throughout I was impressed with the articulation as well as the audibility. A mumble becomes a louder mumble with use of a mike but this cast was clear as crystal. Also very impressive was the use of backing tracks and sound effects. KYDS may lament the lack of a band but what they lost in the spontaneity of a live band they gained in the multitude of sound effects that the mastery of the sound deck had encouraged. I have never heard so many sound effects and musical fades in and out of scenes before; certainly KYDS is way ahead of other local pantomime groups in this respect. This soundscape not only helped create a more continuous flow from scene to scene but more than compensated for the lack of set.
The costumes were good and the make-up subtle – except for the Dame, of course, who was delightfully over the top in every respect. Choreography was fun and offered variety and interest while the choice of songs, not all of which I knew, seemed to fit the action very well. The ensemble genuinely seemed to be enjoying themselves, which is by no means a given in a young people’s stage show, and movement was purposeful and engaging.
The principal line-up was strong, encompassing an age group of 13-20 year olds. Long legged and with a gentle tone to her voice Abigail Morgan epitomized the attractive cross-dressing pantomime hero, Dick Whittington. She displayed good chemistry with Tom Cat (charmingly and unself-consciously played by Grace Upton) and Alice Fitzwarren (Emily Mear, innocent yet forceful, especially in the opening Footloose number). Andrew Stocker had a suitably mature characterization as Alderman Fitzwarren and gave a strong performance, keeping in character despite the temptations to corpse during the hilarious parade ground scene. Will Riglin was the very hirsute Sultan whose choice in women left something to be desired. In some ways these second act parts, with little chance to develop a character are very difficult to do but Will created an interesting persona. Matthew Russell was a very knowing Dame Dolly and despite not quite keeping in tune during Its Raining Men he had a way of making the audience feel totally engaged. This was a very funny performance. Also very funny and well paired were Becky Wright and Phoebe Jowett as Scupper and Captain Cuttlefish – good singers and dancers too. Ben Collins was a loveable Idle Jack, reminding me of a young Mark Wright. Alice Mason gave us Fairy Bowbells with attitude and despite a very accomplished and devilish performance from Daisy Greenwood as Queen Rat, we knew that good would triumph over evil.
A quick comment on the programme; this was informative, very imaginatively, yet clearly, formatted and on good quality paper. I very much enjoyed Dick Whittington and look forward to seeing the next show. Congratulations to all involved.
Reviewed by Stewart Adkins
Regional Representative, District 8
NORTH ESSEX THEATRE GUILD
SHOWCASE FESTIVAL 2014-2015
Group: KYDS Youth Drama Society
Production: Dick Whittington by Alan P. Frayn Venue: Thurstable School, Tiptree
Date of Adjudicator’s visit: Sat matinee Nov 29 2014
Adjudicator: Liz Mullen
The panto of Dick Whittington is all the more welcome for being a less common choice than many others. With adventure, comedy, heroes and villains – and of course, a wily cat – it makes for good entertainment.
FRONT OF HOUSE:
Always a friendly welcome here, and I was shown efficiently to a seat with a good view. I was soon settled down and reading through the typically informative and fun programme, complete with Kyds’ trademark joke adverts. The colourful rehearsal photos and good cast biogs are much appreciated too.
In the interval there was a good variety of refreshments available including truly generous-sized cups of coffee, and lots of nibbly stuff. The raffle draw made it a rather long interval, but it had some desirable prizes that afternoon, and at least one young lad seemed to think Christmas had come early.
SETTING & PROPS:
The sets were more ambitious than I’d seen here before, and generally relied more on settings and extra set pieces than whole “sets” in the traditional sense. Mainly they worked well, easily conjuring up the Alderman’s shop, a Moroccan shore, on board the ship, and so on. Queen Rat’s huge sewer pipe was splendid.
At one point the shop counter was getting in the way, but “Dick” had the sense to nudge it forward to allow more room.
The use of the higher ledge at the back of the stage came in useful and made sense. The ship’s deck was well suggested.
There were several clever little touches in this show, such as the cut-out Islamic Art design on the Dame’s trolley.
LIGHTING & SOUND:
From the joke Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum switch-off-mobiles ad, to the soaring film studio music with lion’s roar, straight into thunderclaps as Queen Rat burst forth in a red spot – sound and light made their impression from the very start. Effects in both cases were well thought out and creative.
The lighting’s other memorable moments included the gorgeous silvery pink spot for the glittering Fairy Bowbells, the blue spot in Footloose and the murkier mood for the sewer – although a little more light was needed on Queen Rat’s face at that point. The green and red lighting for the Rats’ ensemble, with Rat Out Of Hell, also worked well.
There were lots of music/sound cues The EastEnders music beats were used with slick timing in the cliffhanger moment in Act One. In fact the sound crew were sharp on cue throughout, such as when a snatch of Celebration was stopped short, as soon as the dancing Dame threw “herself” down on her stomach.
Dick Whittington’s Dream was nicely interpreted, and came with a cloud of dry ice.
The interval again had the clever spoof commercials that many audience members probably don’t listen to, but I feel adds an extra ingredient of fun to KYDS productions.
COSTUME & MAKE-UP
From the Rats’ boiler suits to the attractively evil garb of their Queen, the baddies’ costumes and splendid make-up/masks had been well thought out. The Queen’s boots and wild hair all fitted the image.
The goodies too looked splendid. The beautifully-costumed and made-up Fairy Bowbells seemed positively luminous in her spot. Dick’s costume summed “him” up as a decent, honest, handsome fellow, and the Cat’s costume and cute make-up were delightful.
Alice was dressed to look wholesome and cheerful, and the Alderman’s robes were suitably grand, if worn in a somewhat casual way.
I liked the tanned and moustachio’d Sultan’s gauzy teal-coloured harem pants – and the lovely silky costumes of his dancing girls in Morocco. The Dame, of course, had some gloriously OTT outfits and I particularly liked her early pink gown with its animal print panels and teetering bright pink wig.
The walkdown costumes were good, and the lovers continued to look wholesome and smart in their cream and camel wedding outfits.
MUSIC & CHOREOGRAPHY
Many lively and appropriate songs were used in the show. It seemed no song/sound cue had been spared. Even Tom Cat’s creep across the stage was accompanied by the Pink Panther Theme and there was comedy chase music for Jack and the Rats.
From the instantly good impression created by the confident hand-clapping opener, Footloose, to the finale song – Live While We’re Young – (with good closing poses) the songs flowed on and on. Rat Out Of Hell and the Sultan’s Kiss Kiss were good choices. The cast sang along wholeheartedly and there were some pleasant solo voices too. The head-mics generally worked well. Well done to the music director and choreography team as well as to director Alex Berriman.
The choreography blended in well with the singing, especially in the shipboard number, Dancing With The Captain, which rightly earned a reprise at the end.
Firstly, well done to the happy chorus, Rats and Ratlings, all dancers and anyone in smaller roles. Everyone played a part in making this an entertaining production.
FAIRY BOWBELLS: Alice Mason looked divine but also impressed with her clear diction and enunciation. She radiated goodness.
QUEEN RAT: An exceptional bit of work from Daisy Greenwood, who commanded the stage. She, also, looked amazing. Daisy really inhabited the role and underlined the character from the start, by storming off through the auditorium, hurling insults as she went. Her singing and movement were also notable, with a good rendition of I Put A Spell On You. A wickedly good performance.
DICK WHITTINGTON: Often the baddies get the most fun and attract the most attention, but without a handsome, self-assured and confident principal “boy” the whole thing would fall flat. Abigail Morgan rose to the challenge and struck the right note of heroic decency from the start.
ALICE FITZWARREN: Patient and thoroughly good-natured, Emily Mear’s Alice was gently pleasing to watch. She had a love duet with Dick (accompanied by grimaces from the unromantic cat) which worked very well.
ALDERMAN FITZWARREN: Andrew Stocker gave the Alderman a casual air – maybe slightly more Grease than Panto – but his personality was pleasing throughout and he was always confident and in command of the role.
DAME DOLLY DUMPLING: Matthew Russell was cheeky and flirty and grew more entertaining as the show went on. There were some nice little set-pieces and comical moments, which Matthew rightly milked, but not too much. His delight at being wooed by the Sultan was lovely and I was impressed at how he handled the loss of his wig at one point. A screech of: “Don’t look at me!” was the perfect female reaction while he pulled it back on. This Dame didn’t have a vast vocal range but he was FUN. We all loved It’s Raining Men.
IDLE JACK: Ben Collins was on form again, showing his ability to connect with an audience in a relaxed and humorous way. His winning personality perfectly suited the Lazy Song. The audience readily responded with shouts on cue, to his pleas for help.
TOM CAT: I adored Grace Upton’s cat. Feline, agile (even doing cartwheels!), affectionate yet determined, this was an enchanting performance with lots of facial expression. She almost stole the show at times.
CAPTAIN CUTTLEFISH and SCUPPER: Good team work from these two, as a semi-idiot and an idiot! They took the lead well in Dancing With The Captain.
SULTAN: The Fonz could not have been more cockily confident than this suave Sultan. Will Riglin looked great and performed his scene with relish and style. Even when his tall headdress fell off into the audience at the end, he kept his cool and cheerfully accepted it back from a young girl in the front row.
A good-natured, fun-packed and entertaining production – the best Kyds show that I personally I have seen. The pace and casting were good, and there was noticeable attention to detail in costumes, sound cues, movement and performances. Well done to director Alex and the company.
Liz Mullen (Adjudicator)