Amy Riordan with permission for Varsity

Panto is always going to be a very different feel to almost anything else we see in Cambridge theatre - or Cambridge comedy. I’m glad that the ADC continues to reserve such a long run each year for theatre that feels like childhood, in the form of the CUADC/Footlights Pantomime. And when I left the ADC after opening night on Wednesday, I really did feel like the cast and crew of Dick Whittington and His Cat had achieved that. It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty perfect for an amateur pantomime.

The plot follows Dick as he leaves Cambridge for London, finding a job as a kitchen assistant in his celebrity crush London Mayor candidate Julie Fitzwarren’s household. Admittedly, there’s not much more of a plot than that. The show is two and a half hours of funny actors and slapstick, but certainly not plot.

"The show is two and a half hours of funny actors and slapstick, but certainly not plot"

The script relies heavily on the classics: anti-Oxford and London jokes, plenty of phallic puns (as we might expect in Dick Whittington), and some uncomfortable moments of audience participation. It’s not an easy thing to get right at the best of times, but there’s a 20 year old student on stage flirting with a mid-60s audience member, it must be really quite a lot harder. Twanky (played by Lizzy Riley) did an incredible job, earning some pretty big laughs and deservedly so.

Amy Riordan with permission for Varsity

Another stand out performance was found in Dick Whittington’s cat himself, played by Louis Hadfield. From his first entrance, his one-liners consistently landed well, and whilst the script was tarnished with a few jokes that couldn’t quite convince the audience beyond a modest chuckle, Louis was able to save the moment with a convincing fourth wall break. When we consider that his other Camdram credits are three Shakespeare productions, this is certainly a change of tune, and he mastered it well. He also made for a good comic duo alongside Mint (Ava Fitzhugh). Likewise, Dick’s love interest Dom (Harison Gee) could rescue a tricky punchline with a quick comeback, and we were all grateful for it. The dog (James Allen) and Doomsday (Matthew Weatherhead), a mockery of climate doomsday protesters, were both weighed down by a script that lent too heavily on their singular punchlines (for the dog, a laboured puppeteer, and for Doomsday simply constantly saying ‘the end is nigh’), but both cast members are talented comedians, and were able to resolve their characters’ flaws.

"From his first entrance, his one-liners consistently landed well"

Far and away the best performer, though, is found in Joseph Lucas, who plays the pantomime’s villain, Nigel Oliver. He was slightly Mr. Bean-esque, but he was choreographed and staged perfectly, and no one could help but laugh. The script could have granted him a little more of an evil edge; the only aspect of the true pantomime form that was missing was a completely wicked pantomime antagonist.

Amy Riordan with permission for Varsity

There’s rather a lot left to be desired by the set; for what is likely to be one the ADC’s biggest budget shows of the year, it would have been nice if the stage was dressed with more than two painted boxes which were rotated to reveal a new painted side for each different setting. The set is efficient though, even if it’s not as visually impressive as we might have hoped for.

Similarly, the costuming doesn’t quite hit the mark. It was a little jarring to see several members of the cast dressed in their jeans, college puffers, and uni lanyards. I get the vision - we’re meant to feel like we’re in Cambridge - but it just looked a little lacklustre.

The rest of the production, however, is really quite impressive. The lighting design by Angua Cha, Stan Hunt, and Yiran Li was majestic, as was the live band. The musical production team is huge, and the work and dedication they put into composing, rehearsing, and conducting the live band are really obvious, as was the cast’s singing talent, especially from Dick (played by Isabel Beresford-Cole). It’s a pity that some of the songs were so uninspiring, and so repetitive. The exception is the jazz number, which is paired with excellent choreography, and is what I heard much of the audience talking about as we filed out of the auditorium.


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Ultimately, not many shows can convince me to sit in the ADC Theatre for two and a half hours. This pantomime couldn’t convince everyone to – a couple sitting on the same row as me did opt not to return after the interval. For me, though, when you sign up for panto, especially an amateur panto, you should be aware of what you’re getting yourself in for. It is a bit tacky, and it is a bit cringy. But it’s also quite heart-warming, and a refreshing step away from the typical cliches of Cambridge theatre. What stands out above all else, is how hard the production team and cast have clearly worked on this play. It is rough around the edges; there were a few missed cues, quite a few shabby punchlines, and the humour is at times painfully on the nose. But it is feel-good theatre, and I’d recommend you give it a visit. Not for the plot, and not really for the script, but to see some genuinely joyful, well-directed, well-produced, and well-executed comedy.