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 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

Hexagon - Dick Whittington

6th December 2008 to 4th January 2009.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

EastEnders' Nick makes a dastardly rat, oh yes he does

Dick Whittington, at The Hexagon, Reading, until January 4

When I was younger, I had a relative who was stage manager at Tunbridge Wells' Assembly Rooms, so I saw a lot of pantomimes, often from the walkway high above the stage. Staring down at Karl Howman's bald spot as he trod the boards is a memory I treasure.

Despite - or possibly because of - this, I had not previously taken son George to a full-blown celeb-laden pantomime, but I've always had a soft spot for John Altman (EastEnders' 'Nasty' Nick Cotton), who plays the dastardly King Rat in Dick Whittington, so this production was a good excuse to give it go.

With the odd exception, such as CBeebies presenter Pui Fan Lee playing Aladdin in Basingstoke, the celebrity factor of such productions usually appeals to grown-ups rather than children.

Altman, due to make a Christmas Day return to EastEnders, was joined by Guy Siner (Lieutenant Gruber in 'Allo 'Allo) as a commanding Alderman Fitzwarren, and Hollyoaks' Christina Baily, showing off her shapely, oft-slapped thighs as the titular hero.

Apart from the odd reference to the EastEnders theme tune and the Madonna with the Big Boobies, the 'stars' didn't overplay their celeb status, and pitched in with the rest of the cast for a bright and lively romp through the Dick Whittington story.

Stripping the tale down to its bare bones - Dick and feisty love interest Alice (Nicola Weeks) put their romance on fast-forward - the production mixed chart hits and original songs in a zippy script, courtesy of the godfather of panto playwrights, Christopher Lillicrap.

Samantha Hughes as Fairy Bow Bells generated some great good-and-evil chemistry with Altman, and she doubled as director to create a jolly production that deserves special mention for the particularly outlandish costumes sported by dame Tim Hudson, as Sarah the Cook.

I was looking forward to spotting some first night bloopers, but aside from the Sultan of Morocco's wonky turban and a rebellious grass skirt, it would have been easy to assume that the production had been running for weeks. No alarms or surprises in this pantomime, but if you want a Christmas show which reminds you of those of your childhood, Dick Whittington does it with (Bow) bells on.