Jarnéia Richard Noel – Photo credit Richard Jarmy
We live in times where it is hard to know what you can rely on. Trust has to be earned, and so many of those we should be able to trust have let us down. So when trust is well earned and well deserved, it matters.
Norwich is a fine city in many ways, and is blessed with a first class offering in all the performing arts. Even in these troubled times, there are good shows to be seen, and many venues making sure that they earn our trust and respect. Top of the list for many of us is our biggest theatre, the Theatre Royal, and when it comes to panto season we have learned to trust Richard Gauntlett and his talented team to deliver the very best in panto. Richard is a skilled singer, performer, writer, director, lyricist, dame and musician and he is one of those talented people who ensure that the uniquely British tradition of Christmas Pantomime is alive and well and in better health than ever.
Dick Whittington is a favourite on the traditional roster of familiar pantomimes, but as we have come to expect from Norwich Theatre Royal this version adds plenty of song, dance, spectacle and misadventure. It feels like a panto for our times, with perhaps a little less slapstick and knockabout comedy and a bit more top class singing and dancing. But as ever the writing and performance is all first class, and we meet some talented performers new to Norwich who we will look forward to seeing again. Returning to Norwich are Graham Cole (Alderman Fitzwarren), aka PC Tony Stamp from The Bill, and the effervescent Joe Tracini as Tommy the Cat. Comedy foil to Gauntlett’s dame Sarah the Cook is Joe Pollard as Idle Jack who earns his place with a high energy sparkling performance as Sarah’s not-that-dopey son. Shakeel Kimotho is elegant and assured as Beau Bells, our narrating spirit who helps Dick on his passage to fame, fortune, romance, and London mayoralty, with Tommy the Cat never far behind. Romance is stirred between Alice Fitzwarren (Jarnéia Richard-Noel) and Gyasi Sheppy as a winningly handsome Dick Whittington. Their singing duets lift this show above the rest and together they bring real pathos to the show. Every good panto needs a proper baddie, and tonight we have the talented Siân Reeves as the evil Queen Rodentia, captain of a wicked ship and a troop of scurrying rats. As baddies go, this one is really rather good.
No good Norwich panto is complete without some younger stars, and tonight’s star turns (from a list of several youngsters) were delivered in some style by Valentina Santos and Danny Gooda. The stage line up is completed by eight capable and gorgeous young dancers led by captain Molly Browne. Music came from a capable foursome with the sound of a much bigger band, led tonight by Artemis Reed.
Pantomime is a fairly formulaic business that relies heavily on known stories and long traditions, but the Theatre Royal likes to give us a something that also shows how the genre is evolving. The influence of popular TV shows is clear, but not clumsy. There is plenty of humour, but perhaps rather less of the smutty double entendre of older, coarser iterations of panto.
So why should you go and see this show? So many reasons. It is a big event, from a team who craft some of the best in the business. It is a tauter, tighter show than predecessors that is just right to lift us from the hard work of everyday life right now. It is entertaining from start to finish, yet is also full of pathos and feeling. There is some great music, from a rather fine reference to the ‘Wellerman’ shanty to some well sung numbers, particularly from outstanding vocalist Jarnéia Richard-Noel fresh from her West end triumph as Catherine of Aragon in the hit musical Six (which by the way was premiered in Norwich Playhouse). Joe Tracini brings pathos and passion to the puss role of Tommy, Dick’s cat. We know and love Joe for his frankness in shedding light on troubles that many share but have been too hidden, but he is also a captivating and inventive stage performer, so quick witted that I sometimes struggled to keep up with his repartee. Go to see Richard Gauntlett, at the top of his game as Sarah the dame, tottering around the stage in ever more loopy costumes. See the lavish set, the messy slapstick, the emerging romance, see pantomime back with a bang. See you there!
Julian Swainson, Norwich Eye, 15 December 2021