Review: Chellaston Players, Dick Whittington

You can’t fault the dedication and enthusiasm of the Chellaston Players. They have been producing an annual pantomime for three decades and despite being short of enough young people to create a full chorus this year they insisted the show must go on.

So an intrepid band of amateur thespians took to the stage at St Peter’s Church Hall last night to act, sing and dance their hearts out for a very appreciative audience, which was sadly a little low on numbers.

It might have been a Tuesday night in the middle of January, and people may have wanted to stay at home, but on the other hand what better time to get out for a break from the post Christmas blues and have some fun? Let’s hope that the rest of the week sees the seats filling up for this production of Dick Whittington.

Anyway those of us who were there soon learnt that you are never too old to shout ‘he’s behind you’ boo, hiss, clap and cheer. With not a child in sight we had to let go of our inhibitions, and can you believe it? We had fun!

Every one of the 12-strong cast gave their all in this show, but the biggest cheer of the night went to a well-deserving Jane Roots who played the leather and chains-clad Queen Rat. It was hard to believe the face looking at me from the programme was the same woman. She was really amazing.

Phil Hodgkiss took to playing the dame, like a duck to water. Helped by his outrageous costumes he strutted his stuff around the stage as Sara The Cook with confidence and had the audience in stitches.

E. Montgomery Ashford obviously enjoyed hamming up his part as the bungling ship’s Captain and Kim Shaw should be proud of her comic performance as Idle Jack.

Bethany Madden, in the title role of Dick was as impressive as she was last year, although we didn’t hear so much of her lovely voice, and Katherine Sheldrake was the perfect partner for Dick as lovely Alice Fitzwarren.

And we mustn’t forget Rebecca Watson, the youngest member of the cast, who did well to walk around the stage on her knees as Tommy the Cat, Whittington’s faithful friend.

Last year I watched my first panto by the Players and I loved the fact that it had a definite community feel. It was rougher around the edges from the other commercial pantomimes I had seen around the county and I enjoyed it all the more.

This year was different – the local idiosyncrasies seemed to have disappeared. Possibly due to the lack of members and volunteers from the community, the Players had chosen to bring in Mark Two Character Productions run by Kevin and Daphne Baines to help them stage Dick Whittington.

Kevin wrote the script and provided the recorded music while his wife Daphne directed it and was in charge of set-design, costumes, props and choreography.

While the overall effect was impressive – the costumes were gorgeous and the plastic-looking backdrops simple and effective – but for me the show had lost some of its charm.

In the programme the Players co-chair Cathy Wilson makes a plea for new people, especially young ones, to join them.  “We welcome everyone, whether you fancy having a go at acting, directing, writing, working with lights and sound, set building, stage crewing, costumes, props or front of house activities,” she said.

Don’t put it off if you are looking to do something new this year, this is your opportunity. Contact her by email at cathy_wilson@ntworld.com.

It would be great to see the Players flourishing with a show staged by and watched by the local community next year.

The rest of the cast were: John Howarth, Town Crier, Stephanie Ashford, Fairy Bell, Colin Henchley, Mayor Alderman Fitzwarren, Cathy Wilson, Sultana of Morocco and Louise Moss, Gaoler. The back stage team other than the Baines’ were John Howarth stage manager, lighting and props, Jerry Gregson, assistant stage manager; Adam Tempest, lighting operation, Ollie Moss sound, Tracey Penn, stage crew, Maggie McNally, box office, Elaine Madden front of house and Emma Duder, graphic designer.

Dick Whittington is on until January 29 at 7.15pm with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2.15pm. For tickets telephone 07399 203215.

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