Review: Dick Whittington at Cambridge Arts Theatre fizzes with tingle factor, Paul Nicholas is magnificent

Dick Whittington Cambridge Arts Theatre

Dick Whittington Cambridge Arts Theatre - Credit: Archant

Dick Whittington, this year’s show at Cambridge Arts Theatre, written by Al Morley with the dame Matt Crosby, has panache and aplomb. It fizzes from the opening moments and keeps up the fast pace right to the end.

Dick Whittington Cambridge Arts Theatre

Dick Whittington Cambridge Arts Theatre - Credit: Archant

Paul Nicholas, starring as King Rat, turns the baddie into a Shakespearian villain. He looks like Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow from The Pirates of the Caribbean and among the hissing and the snarling, annunciates lines from Macbeth and Richard III with a deep classical voice.

He is elegant, lithe and magnificent – the audience booed as soon as they saw the puffs of green smoke that signalled his entrances, but actually they wanted to clap.

Crosby as Sarah the Cook – in most inspired series of gowns, is a consummate dame. She looks as though she really could consume the man in the front row who she picks on each performance to receive her double entendres.

In the picnic scene: “Oh I do love a good spread on a hillside.”

But the twist here, and he would have run off with the show, if he hadn’t been up against such tours de force, was Tommy the Cat.

Usually played by a balletic young woman in a black leotard, this time, Tommy was a man in a tabby fat suit – a big ginger tom.

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Far from the usual mute performance punctuated with meows and an arched back – this cat, played by Daniel Cummins, talked the talk and walked the walk (and did the splits). He carried a lot of the comedy, gliding through the show as the dame did.

The singing and dancing is strong in this show. Dawn Hope as Fairy Bowbells, Holly Easterbrook as Dick and Rhiannon Porter as Alice Fitzwarren can belt out the numbers with the best. There is a lot of tingle factor.

This and strong performances from Robert Duncan as Alderman Fitzwarren (lovely love duet with Sarah the Cook) and Robert Rees as Idle Jack make this one of the best Arts Theatre pantos of the decade. It’s pithy, witty and funny. There are plenty of new jokes as well as the old and loved one: “Meet the Sultana - how very current.” Enormous energy and tremendous talent.

After a rotten year in the world in so many ways, it was an island of fun and joy. The cast put their hearts into it and uplifted ours.