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Torch Theatre, Milford Haven, Fri 3 Dec

Who? Shakespeare? Oh forget about him, love. Forget about silly old Shakespeare. Forget Pinter and old wot’s-his-face… Beckett. In fact, forget the bloody lot of ‘em. Because as the years roll by, as the seasons come and go, inexorably so, it’s the Torch Theatre’s annual pantomime that provides all the profound spiritual guidance we will ever need to help us on our time-travel through this crazy goddamn world. It’s the Torch’s panto, undoubtedly the best on planet earth, which never fails to blow the dust off of your soul.

Gorgeous on the eyes, the ears and that soul, this year’s Dick Whittington (he built London’s first public lavatory, you know – honest) is an escapist two-hour mesmeric mirage, bursting with wit, warmth, invention and, of course, a very healthy dusting of double entendre. Francesca Goodridge is superb as the Fairy Beau Bells, as are Miriam O’Brien and Joe Robinson, the Play School presenter-style straight ‘men’, Alice and Dick. All three infuse their roles with a welcome dose of mischievousness and tongues in cheeks.

Oraine Johnson, the street-credible Tommy, must be every ailurophile’s favourite pantomime cat: pounce-perfect, bling-tastic, Public Enemy-esque, slinkily hypnotic, tutting and gliding Egyptian style into your hearts. As always, though, the unseen star is James Williams’ sparkling musical score. This time his repertoire contains nods to Tinie Tempah and even Stock Aitken & Waterman in the pumping and wonderfully ridiculous Disco Cake – but the highlight is surely the comedy genius that is his tinny rap version of Old McDonald’s Farm (surely a hit in the making), Dion Davies’ dame rapping a la Goldie Lookin Chain with Richard Nichols. One of those ‘worth-the-price-of-admission-on-its-own’ moments.

Nichols is always hilarious, never less than top class, clearly enjoying (as do we) the arthritic amorality of his Alderman Fitzwarren. Ermined, mercenary and ever so slightly kiffed, Sion Ifan’s King Rat shamelessly revels in his own camp menace (as do we). All buccaneer black, he somehow manages to resemble Gary Neville, Dick Turpin (with a tail), and an extra from an 80s Adam Ant video all at the same time. Dick Whittington’s lusty mum, Davies’ Sarah The Cook, is of course simply fab’las. Sassy, brassy and ever so slightly trashy, with fantastic timing and huge energy this is a superbly nuanced performance.

And fortunately for the dame, in the hands of writer-director Peter Doran her son Dick enjoys a very happy ending. Or, as Davies puts it, “Fancy: my little Dick is the Mayor Of London.”

The Torch’s Whittington is modern yet traditional, spectacular yet intimate, and full of the sort of elusive charm big city pantos with their bolt-on celebs can never match. As an 1877 reviewer put it, “There are sweetw sounds for your ears, pretty pictures for your eyes, and no end of comicality to make exactions upon your risible faculties.”


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