Tuesday evening marked the official press night of Dick Whittington at the Regent Theatre – Stoke’s Christmas panto and it was with great trepidation that in the spirit of panto I was trusted with (and was responsible for) two children under the age of 10 to accompany me as my “dates”. Starring the cities very own (and panto regular) Jonathan Wilkes as the hero of the story, Dick, the West Ends Louise Dearman as his love interest Alice and Dick’s mum Sarah the Cook played by the funniest dame in panto land Christian Patterson. After the success of last years Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the dream team of Wilkes and Patterson return to stage to deliver a show full of raucous laughter, innuendos aplenty and songs and dancing galore.
In theatre land Panto marks the beginning of the festive season like the opening of the 1st door of a chocolate advent calendar. Now, I’ve had many a chocolate advent calendar but I’ve never been to panto before. OH YES YOU HAVE.. Oh no I have… you get the picture.
What I expected from Dick Whittington, I’m not entirely sure.
What I was welcomed by was a buzzing auditorium full of exciteable children high off E numbers accompanied by their parents/nan/aunty who is trying to look suitably underwhelmed by the whole thing but they know something good is coming. From the moment the curtain went up to the moment it went down for the interval I had on my hands a very captivated couple of children. They laughed, they cheered, they booed at the bad guys, they even joined in with obligatory “he’s behind you” chants and they were eating out of the palms of the casts hands.
What I hadn’t expected was the hefty dose of adult friendly fun which went hand in hand with the kiddy friendly gags. As the children applauded and giggled innocently away, mums and dads (and the rest of us) alike were biting our tongues whilst chuckling at buckets of innuendo and a whole host of double entendre – with the lead character donning the name “Dick” I’m sure you can guess at the nature of the jokes.
I for one never thought I’d be encouraged to chant “we want Dick!” at the age of 27 in a public place and in the company of children, but I’ve come to realise that that’s what is so clever about panto. I always imagined Panto to be a snoreworthy event for adults as they try to encourage their E number fuelled children to sit nicely on their seats and pay attention to the stage in between drinking copious amounts of wine and thinking “it’s Christmas and it’s for the kids” and praying it will all be over soon. OH NO IT ISN’T. Panto is marvellous. It’s a place where people of all ages can feast on sweets (or a bottle of red) sing along and spend the evening being shamelessly entertained by an extremely talented all singing all dancing act who bring the funny to the table through a cleverly executed script and some outstanding improvisation (with hilarious consequences).
Succumb to the festive cheer and take your kids. If you don’t have any kids – take someone else’s kids. If you don’t happen to have any kids or know anyone with kids then take yourself and your next door neighbour (or the bloke who works in the corner shop) just grab a Christmas jumper, some tinsel and pick up a ticket online or from the box office at the theatre.