Written By: Mark Armstrong
Date: December 15 2015
Location: Liverpool Empire Theatre
The Liverpool Empire is in panto season, and its festive production this year is Dick Whittington, starring a good number of famous faces and featuring plenty of funny scenarios and eye-catching moments to ensure that theatregoers of all ages would love this show.
The plot is a little less clear than in other shows, as the story takes some unexpected twists and turns, but the main story arc is that Dick Whittington (played by Kurtis Stacey) and his cat Tommy (Hayley Goold) have arrived in Liverpool looking for work, and not only do they find a job quickly working at a shop belonging to Alderman Fitzwarren (Pete Price), but he also finds love in the form of the shop owner’s daughter Alice (Leanne Campbell). The city has a problem with rats, hence why the cat is of great use to Alderman, but King Rat (Warren Donnelly) still has plans to spoil everybody’s plans.
For, as the main characters prepare to embark on a long trip across the sea, King Rat manages to hypnotise Dick into taking money from the Fitzwarren safe and hiding it in his travel bag, thus seeing him blamed and sent away when the discovery is made. However, Alice manages to convince her family to let Dick and Tommy join them for the journey. But this takes an errant turn too when King Rat strikes again and causes a ship-wreck, leaving the characters to swim their way to safety. They make it to Morocco (where they meet the Sultan of Morocco, also played by Pete Price), where a stand-off occurs between Dick and King Rat. Can Dick clear his name? Will King Rat get what he deserves? And will Dick and Alice get the opportunity to live happily ever after?
I really enjoyed this show: all the characters do a good job in their respective roles, with Eric Potts being the highlight of the show due to his over-the-top portrayal of Sarah the Cook, which includes some over-sized costumes that get as many laughs as the character wearing them, and a number of risqué jokes (including some involving sausage pies). Liam Mellor also provides some giggles as Idle Jack with some deliberately awful jokes, his laid-back approach to the problems that come up, and his local slang which makes some of his lines sound funnier than they are. Kurtis and Leanne are effective in the leading roles, and display their singing talents via some modern hits which had the audience clapping along and dancing. The backing dancers (some of which were dressed as rats) performed well too in their limited scenes, and we also had Sally Lindsay starring as the Fairy Fazakerley.
Perhaps the most memorable parts of the show were the spectacular scenery, from a suitably old-fashioned town setting to a glittery, opulent Moroccan palace, and the unique 3D video which was shown during the second half. The video looked at the adventures of a turtle (carried out by Idle Jack throughout the show) after the ship wreck, as he encountered fishes and even a shark. Due to the 3D effects (complete with 3D glasses for the audience) and the cool artistry of the scene, it enhanced the show as a whole, and took the production to a level above your everyday (well, every Christmas) pantomime. The opening video to the show was also unexpected, as it charted the history of English pantos and even had an X-Factor-esque intro, complete with a sing-along countdown.
Overall, I feel that this is a must-see panto for the family this Christmas. Adults will recognise the older names and will get some jokes that may fly over the heads of younger ones (one double entendre in particular was really funny, if a bit awkward in this setting), whilst the kids will love the special effects, the colourful characters, the superb settings and the general feel of this show. Make it a priority to see Dick Whittington this Christmas at the Liverpool Empire; it’s a first-class Christmas extravaganza for all.
Overall Rating: 9/10 – Outstanding