The pupils from Chieveley Primary School, every one of them, surrounded me in the stalls at a morning performance of Dick Whittington, demonstrating that they require no lessons at all in the art of shouting and, indeed, loud singing.

Pantomimes at Newbury Corn Exchange, as I have noted often before, supply many opportunities for audience participation which are always eagerly seized on by the youngsters present.

Phil Willmott has written and directed all the ones I have seen, including last year’s excellent Aladdin. The forces at his disposal may not be large, but they are always well marshalled to give the maximum of festive fun.

In Dick Whittington, he makes a virtue of necessity, for instance, in employing the versatile Oliver Tattersfield to play three brothers who are, respectively, the village bobby, the sea god Poseidon, and an eastern sultan called Campari.

Mr Willmott offers a slightly different take on the traditional story. For example we see nothing of the usual rather boring character of Alderman Warren, father of Dick’s beloved Alice and proprietor of the town shop.

Feisty Alice herself (Phoebe Lewis) owns the business this time, and is naturally pretty cheesed off when it appears that Dick has robbed her.

Of course we know that the lad – played in fine style by Christian James, last year’s Aladdin – has been framed by the odious and much-hissed King Atticus Ratticus (Oliver Broad).

Timely interventions by Fairy Fuschia (Lizzy Dive) help to guarantee that good triumphs in the end. On the way much laughter is supplied by Phil Sealey as outrageously garbed Sarah the Cook and Dick’s feline sidekick Billy.

This smooth-talking dude was admirably played at the performance I saw by ensemble member Joey Warne, stepping in for an indisposed Matthew Grace.

Musical numbers (most adapted from well-known pop songs) are splendidly delivered under musical director Richard Baker.

The use of a series of numbers from Grease, with Sarah giving her hilarious take on Sandy, was a particularly felicitous touch.


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