He’s back! The headline at The Hexagon this year is that Justin Fletcher – aka Mr Tumble – has returned to the Reading stage for its pantomime, Dick Whittington.
It’s his first appearance here since 2012’s Beauty and the Beast and he’s been much missed.
However, let’s not let a megastar overshadow the rest of the cast: Imagine Theatre’s Dick Whittington is a triumph from start to finish and that’s thanks to note perfect performances from the whole cast, not just one man.
And I’m sure modest Justin would be the first to say the success of the show is a team effort, not all down to him.
Of all the big pantomimes, Dick is not always in the top tier: the tale of a lad who seeks fame and fortune in London while battling King Rat could be seen as a harder sell than Snow White (coming next year!) or Cinderella. But this Dick rises to the occasion and once again Imagine has created a fantastic all-singing, all-dancing, all-laughter show that delights all ages.
The play opens with a short prologue and our first glimpse of King Rat, ably played by Jamie Sheerman. A simple and effective costume means we believe he’s a rat without any fake noses or whiskers. He is seen to by Fairy Bowbells (played by Anna Mitcham who also stars as Alice, Dick’s love interest). She is a kind, wise and bright fairy who adds some sparkle to the proceedings.
Kerry Newell returns to The Hexagon to play a fun and loveable Dick – she was previously Aladdin a few years ago – and she is ably accompanied by the sublime Becky Stone as Tommy The Cat.
William Finkenrath brings just the right gravitas to the role of Alderman Fitzwarren, while Alex Ranahan is superb as Stinky – one of my two children said he was her favourite in the show.
Also returning, back for a third year, is Paul Morse as the dame. This year, he was Sarah The Cook and it’s a bit of a strange part in that the dame doesn’t have as integral a role in the story as, say, the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella or Nanny in Sleeping Beauty. That’s not to say it’s a lack lustre role – far from it and Paul Morse deserves to go into panto’s hall of dame fame for his fantastic, hysterical, side-splitting and memorable performance.
Teamed up with Justin as Idle Jack and you’ve got a superb duo. Yes, welcome back Justin, it’s great to see you. Your years in working on CBeebies means you know exactly how to tickle and tease your audience and ensure the laughs keep on coming and coming and coming.
The show is spectacular, opening with a high energy dance number that sets the pace. From there it’s a relentless show as the laughs, songs, gags and action keeps on coming. Everything is all present and correct, from the sight gags to the lame gags, to the messy slosh scenes and the Ghostbusters moment (well, we’ll have to do it again then, won’t we?) to the happy ending and, of course, bags of audience interaction, this is a show worth setting sail for.
The streets of London are paved with gold, and the Hexagon’s production is comedy gold.