Friday, 25 November 2011

Rehearsal Time: Dick Whittington at theTheatre Royal

Last night I had the wonderful privilege of attending the technical rehearsal of Dick Whittington before it opened tonight for the 2011-2012 panto season at Bury St Edmunds' Theatre Royal.

I've never seen a theatrical rehearsal before, unless you consider our Sixth Form school pantomime back in 1985, when I helped at our performance of Cinderella, so last night was indeed a unique opportunity to have a peek behind the scenes.  It was also the only time, as a member of the audience, that I've been allowed to keep my mobile phone on for tweeting and photos.

I soon spotted Colin Blumenau, the director. He was sat in the pit, playing very close attention to the script, while a couple of dozen people were dotted around the theatre, taking official photos, recording the performance or there simply to support the show.  I was in the delightful position of having a box in the dress circle entirely to myself, with one of the best seats in the house to watch the performance

Very soon the lights dimmed and the cast opened the show as they would normally to a packed house mid panto season. Without a houseful of children shouting in their high-pitched voices at the stage, staff and volunteers made up for it with plenty of boos and hisses and all the other traditional audience participation that becomes such festive slapstick.  It was very surreal without the kids but hilarious all the same, so-much-so that it would be such fun if they actually did switch the kids for grown-ups during the traditional sing-song set.

I always love the Theatre Royal pantomimes and the preview of this year's Dick Whittington didn't disappoint. The set and costumes were just fabulous and no-one will fail to be enchanted by the gorgeous twinkly stage during the finale.

The cast was utterly brilliant and I predict that adults and kids alike will particularly love Tommy the cat as well as Sarah the Cook, who made a very fine pantomime dame with her very elaborate bosom and equally elaborate delivery of a Winston Churchill speech.

Even though it was a technical rehearsal, it felt that it was definitely opening-ready and the highlights for me were in particular a very naughty Jamie Oliver joke, the beautiful rendition of Adele's "Someone like you" and the magical fluorescent set that accompanies "under the sea".

Last night was fun and it was great to see how the theatre is engaging with bloggers in this way and trusting users of social-media into the inner-sanctum of rehearsals, a space normally reserved for staff and volunteers.  Of course, it's great for raising awareness of the production and creates discussion on Twitter.  And so it should!  Even Sarah the Cook, aka @ does it during costume changes.

I really am in love with panto and think this production is as wonderful an addition to the theatre's repertoire as ever they have been!

"Oh, yes I do!"

And one day, when I am older, I would love to be a pantomime dame too, but only when I'm a big girl and all grown up!


Dick Whittington and his Cat will be at the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds until Sunday 15 January.  More information can be found at

For regular updates on Twitter, follow @TheatreRoyalBSE, the Dame @
or the hashtag #dickwhittingtonbse.