The purpose of any good pantomime is to imbue audiences with a sense of comfort, good humour and seasonal cheer. So how about one that plunges its audience into a socio-political satire dripping with painful truths? Astonishingly, Ricky Whittington & His Cat, the newest work from comedy powerhouse Fight in the Dog, manages to mix these two very different atmospheres together to create something utterly enthralling and endlessly funny. Filled with catchy songs and hilarious caricatures, the show openly ridicules its audience and exposes the superficial magnetism of living in London.
Ricky Whittington, a young boy, travels to London with his cat to make his fortune. To all other places in the country, London is touted as the font of all success but as they approach the city, they pass groups of people travelling in the other direction, disillusioned with London’s gleam. Determined nonetheless, the duo happens upon Mayor Goodmayor making a public announcement that almost sounds like real sentences but doesn’t actually say anything. Unimpressed by the political nonsense, local busybody Alice Fitzwarren vows to change the city by running for mayor herself and finally ridding London of its rat infestation. However, evil lurks in the shadows as King Rat (supplier of King Rat rat poison no less) embarks on his mission to redevelop and gentrify the whole city, allowing access to only the wealthy elite.
There aren’t enough words to describe how funny this show is. The script, from Daran Johnson and Liam Williams, is witty, nonsensical and provocative all at the same time. The overarching story continually lampoons its audience, a large portion of which are guilty of having moved to London, deceived by the apparent cornucopia of opportunity. While this risks a riot in the auditorium, the characters are portrayed with such cartoonish charm that we enjoy the roast. Johnson’s musical numbers, co-created with David Pegg, are fantastic. They bubble with soaring, catchy melodies and intricate harmonies that cascade across the stage.
Leading lady (lad?) Charlotte Richie does a great job in anchoring the story. Her portrayal of Ricky is innocent, stupid and brilliantly carefree and, balanced by Omar Ibrahim, as Ricky’s sombre and dry-humoured cat, the pair drive the story forward brilliantly. David Elms’ dame borders on preposterously funny. His exquisite comic timing and ability to improvise one-liners mean that the audience hardly has the chance to catch their breath before the swell of laughter rings through the space anew. Rosa Robson’s rather manic Mrs Hickerty Crickerty is complimented beautifully by her superb soprano voice while Ellie White, as Alice, rakes in the laughs with her drawling voice and awkward physicality. The villain, King Rat, is realised in all his wonderful weirdness by Rob Carter and Emily Lloyd-Saini expertly swings from role to role, lending her superb throwaway humour throughout.
A revolutionary piece in the world of panto, Ricky Whittington & His Cat manages to combine enough of the glitter-laden frivolity of the typical festive show with the rather disenchanting reality of London living. The result is an endlessly enjoyable piece that both satirises class divides and economic crises and keeps the audience utterly transfixed all the while.
Reviewed by Alex Foott
Photo: Richard Davenport
RICKY WHITTINGTON AND HIS CAT plays at the New Diorama Theatre until 7 January 2017