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Oxford Playhouse - Dick Whittington and His Cat

23rd November 2018 to 6th January 2019

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

The cat's whiskers

Dick Whittington and His Cat, at the Oxford Playhouse, until January 6

Steve Marmion's fourth pantomime for the Oxford Playhouse, Dick Whittington and His Cat, has a big show feel, with its exuberant array of showbiz numbers and lively renditions of pop hits.

I loved the witty homage to the rap musical Hamilton that opens the second half, the vibrant Spice Girls Wannabe routine set on an exotic island and the loud, anarchic Nirvana Smells Like Teen Spirit imitation, the cast's energy radiating an infectious bonhomie and sense of togetherness. Naturally there are Brexit and Boris gags, and even the new Doctor Who makes an appearance in an unexpected reflection of girl power.

Last year's Jack, Ricky Oakley, returns as Dick, his Midlands boyband persona a featherlight soufflé of naive yet bold intentions. Also back as baddie is Max Olesker, whose King Rat is a delicious fusion of acid drops and gobstoppers. Alessandro Babalola, another returnee, plays the Cat with rat issues, stealing the show with his rapping, gyrating cockiness, a feline humorously disarmed in an instant by a tickle from the show's heroine, Alice (Adrianna Bertola).

Making his third appearance as a Playhouse panto dame, Paul Barnhill's Sarah The Cook dispenses innuendos emerging naturally from his gender-swapping casting. Tim Treloar, who amazed in the Watermill's House and Garden last year and in Birdsong that toured to the Playhouse this year, demonstrates his versatility in the role of Mr Fitzwarren, the Welsh baker who is in debt to King Rat. His adlibs to an audience volunteer about an acting career are worth the ticket price alone.

Hannah says: My favourite character is Alice, and the reason I like Alice so much is that she has a great singing voice and I loved the singing the most in the pantomime. The rats' song was my favourite because they were the ones who had most poses. Sarah The Cook was the funniest character in the whole of the pantomime. She was more than one person, first she was like a cook, then she was a swimming ladyboy, then at the end she dressed up all pink. I give it a hundred star review!

and HANNAH LEWIS (aged 7)

Review from The Guardian.

Fantastic panto is the rat's whiskers

With showers of sweets, a street-smart feline and plenty of gags for the grown-ups, this is a supremely comic production

You don’t expect panto to tamper with the classic ingredients: ear-busting songs, dance routines, topical jokes and bombardments of sweets from the stage that whip the kids into a frenzy. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen them all come together quite so enjoyably as in this fantastically good-natured production. Soho theatre’s artistic director, Steve Marmion, who has masterminded the Playhouse’s Christmas offering for the past three years, has done an excellent job again. Swerving tabloid-famous walk-ons, he has assembled a hard-working, well-marshalled cast who cover all the bases with style.

So we have clean-cut Ricky Oakley as Dick, accompanied by all-action Alessandro Babalola as his feline chum, who provides our starry-eyed hero with street-smart, world-weary wisdom. Fairy Bowbells (Rebecca Craven) loiters on the gantry providing the overview, while Adrianna Bertola is feisty baker’s daughter Alice, who ends up spearheading a voters’ revolt.

No prizes for guessing that there are gags about everything from the Brexit bus to Boris Johnson, while the “grown-up” jokes about our hero’s first name are as old as time itself – but Babalola’s nicely snarky Oxford-baiting reference to Stormzy was properly leftfield.

As for the trad panto comic business, veteran dame Paul Barnhill does the honours as the cook (showing off, incidentally, a fine baritone voice), and Max Olesker is really very funny as an Anthony Blanche-ish King Rat. (In truth, pantos are never actually that hilarious, but I found myself laughing out loud at some of Olesker’s lines.)

My two small companions, as ever, screamed like mad whenever they were invited to do so – the he’s-behind-you business was brief but highly concentrated, and they seemed on the verge of taking the roof off. They nearly fell out of their seats when Babalola scrambled practically over their heads during an in-the-audience bit. (Their only substantial complaint was that the cook failed to aim a pack of Haribo straight at them when he was hurling sweets into the audience, but I think this counts as a Life Lesson.) On a more inspiring note, my eight-year-old was much taken with the chance to vote in the mayoral elections at the play’s finale, and – without wanting to give too much away – the unexpected candidacy of one of the cast.


There are reviews from The Stage ("unfocused but spectacular, musical extravaganza of a pantomime" - 3 stars), the Oxford Times ("an absolute triumph... so much fun... when it finished I just wanted to watch it all over again... hugely enjoyable and the best example of modern day pantomime I can possibly envisage... my favourite Playhouse pantomime in living memory" - 5/5), DailyInfo ("this is definitely panto in all its traditional glory: there are dance routines, power ballads, shaving foam accidents, audience participation pieces, and an epic struggle between good and evil").