Written by Nathan Cockerill
Theatre Direction by Chris Jarvis
Film Direction by Geoff Coward
A tradition from Auntie Beeb themselves, the CBeebies Pantomime has become an annual event for cheerful faces across the nation on both the small and, in recent years, the big screen. And this year is no different as we’re off to ol’ London town with Dick Whittington and His Cat, arriving at over 500 locations across the UK this December 10th and 11th as a part of the show’s cinematic experience.
Those braving the frosty air for a festive cinema treat – the cinematic release this weekend (December 10th and 11th) comes with additional sing-along numbers not found in the home releases of the Panto. So, if you’ve not quite sung your heart out, there’s some extra magic to discover for those in the audience. Front-loaded, the start of the show for audiences will primarily consist of working the vocal muscles with a plethora of Christmassy songs; original and inspired by some all-time classics.
After a heaping helping of song, the Pantomime unfurls itself to the splendour of a full audience at the Congress Theatre Eastbourne. A front-on-shot of the live stage production, the cinematography does occasionally offer an intimate and more up-close shot of the madness and action unfolding before us but still manages to capture the magic of live theatre.
With the Lord Mayor’s big Festive parade scheduled for any moment now, it would be an absolute disaster if his Golden Hammer was to be misplaced, or stolen… And here folks is where Dick Whittington, their Cat, and yes, you, can have a part to play in it all. This year’s CBeebies panto is as quaint and charming as one would hope for, with a wealth of Cbeebies favourites taking on the chipper, colourful, peculiar characters, and a few villainous roles.
With lashings of block colours, the CBeebies Panto is crafted with the youngest eyes in mind, being accessible for all to watch and enjoy without fears of over-stimulation. But that doesn’t mean they’ve taken it easy, with full costumes for all, large-scale set designs and terrific use of puppetry for everyone’s favourite Dodge T. Dog and a host of smaller woodland creatures. And Dodge isn’t the only Cbeebies star making a cameo, with much of Rhys Jarman’s set design and the show contains enough nods and winks to (almost) make up for all the time parents have spent memorising these colourful characters.
And the most influential character we meet today is that of Dick Whittington themselves, Ben Cajeem and of course, Cat played with a feline-ballet grace by Alex Phelps. Props to Phelps too, who is voiceless (save for a few meows) and offers a valiant performance expressed only through movement. Cajee, a core member of the channel, is an established presenter and entertainer, bringing their usual panache for performance and dance alongside Cbeebie’s newest presenter George Webster, and Gemma Hunt’s Alice Fitzwarren and the loud, wonderful, and glittering fairy of the show Jannie Dale as Mrs Fitzwarren.
How Justin Fletcher finds the time to fit in a multitude of Cbeebies’ favourite programmes with live performances, and now taking a turn as the Lord Mayor and even a yodelling Yeti is incomprehesible. The talent of children’s entertainers and presenters is legendary across the UK, and Fletcher has already claimed their spot among the stars of generations as one of the most beloved and successful faces of children’s broadcasting. And they bring their all, even when not strictly one of the principal leads, Fletcher still manages to provide a broad spectrum of song, dance (with Hayley Del Harrison’s choreography) and comedic timing with the entire cast.
And who’d have thought that the hearts of the audience would beat for a little London pigeon, who through a spot of magic turns into the one and only Andy Day. Starting life as one of Neil Sterenberg’s signature puppets, Day takes the chance to steal the audience’s attention as the larger-than-life Bow and join Whittington and Cat on their adventure to reclaim the Golden Hammer and thwart the Grand Order of Mischief – three rats with a plan of their own.
With Molly & Mack’s very own James Mackenzie having an absolute blast as the *ahem* cutest member of the Grand Order, this trio of Turnip, Stilton & Sprout are the precise addition needed to introducing an element of antagonism without tormenting the youngest of the audience. Cat Sandion, Rebecca Keatley, and Mackenzie bring a heaping of humour, both physical and toying with the audience.
So then, is the illustrious silver screen worth it for the show? Absolutely. Not solely for the additional songs, but to appreciate the local cinema experience and test the waters of the youngest viewers for their first theatrical pantomime – away from the costs and crowded theatres. Dick Whittington and His Cat may be targeted at younger audiences, but despite some forced Christmas numbers in the earlier moments, is an otherwise delightful way to not merely keep children entertained for an hour, but to enjoy time together and introduce a new set of fans to the world of Pantomime.
A Delightful Introduction to Pantoland
CBeebies Pantomime: Dick Whittington and His Cat is in cinemas on December 10th and 11th.
Before hitting the small screen later in the month.