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It's panto time again

PUBLISHED: 16:16 23 December 2009 | UPDATED: 11:19 23 August 2010

QUEEN RAT: Michelle Gayle.

QUEEN RAT: Michelle Gayle.

CRE8IVE Pantomimes production of Dick Whittington at the Stag Theatre, Sevenoaks, marks the first time a professional panto has played at this troubled venue for several years, writes Mark Campbell. In council hands following a shortlived stint under pr

CRE8IVE Pantomimes' production of Dick Whittington at the Stag Theatre, Sevenoaks, marks the first time a professional panto has played at this troubled venue for several years, writes Mark Campbell.

In council hands following a shortlived stint under private ownership, the theatre has now managed to attract a strong cast of famous and (to me) not-so-famous names for this bright, family show.

Tony (Emmerdale) Haygarth, fresh from his West End appearance in Little Voice, is the company's biggest signing. In truth his contribution as Alderman Fitzwarren is minor, thanks to an unfunny running joke that has him thinking he's in the wrong panto all the time.

Young children will more likely be confused, rather than amused, by this conceit. On press night, the actor appeared somewhat confused himself.

Thank goodness, then, that this pantomime sticks to the worthy tradition of having the principal boy played by a girl - for if it didn't, we would not have the hugely talented Anna Broadley as Dick Whittington.

The winner of a radio talent competition, she lights up the stage with a fabulous thigh-slapping performance as the 'handsome hero'.

She looks like she's been doing it forever, but at the age of 22 this is only her first panto. She should go far.

Lucy (Waterloo Road) Dixon gives a charmingly spirited turn as Alice, and there's great chemistry between her and Broadley.

As Fairy Bowbells, TV presenter and former pop singer Anna Kumble does her best with the thankless role of a fairy forced to speak in dreary rhyming couplets. The same fate befalls Michelle (EastEnders) Gayle as Queen Rat, but at least she can entertain the audience with some audience-pleasing villainy.

It's also a mistake to have her and Fairy Bowbells deliver a long duologue at the start. First impressions count and this is a sluggish way to open proceedings.

However, Ant Payne makes a suitable daft Silly Billy - very popular with the kids - while Robert Pearce, as Sarah the Cook, is a wonderfully camp dame with a riot of colourful costumes.

Dick's loyal cat Tommy is played by local girl Rebecca Moynes who gives a star performance in her professional debut.

Written, directed and produced by Jamie Wilson, Dick Whittington is a traditional show with a classic ghost chase and some lively dance numbers choreographed by Kerry Turner.

Musical director Debbi Parks conducts the small but energetic orchestra.

Dick Whittington runs at the Stag Theatre until 2 January 2010. The next production is Cowardy Custard by Noel Coward, from 8-10 January. Tickets: 01732 450175.

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