We're continuing our series of features in which we introduce you to the cast of this year's pantomime Dick Whittington and the colourful characters they play. Today it's the turn of Richard Gibson, (above centre) - familiar to many as 'Allo 'Allo's Herr Flick - who returns to Poole for the second Christmas running after his performance as Baron Hardup in Cinderella ...
Thrilled to be back in Poole by popular demand following his Lighthouse panto debut last year, Richard Gibson is in characteristically playful mood as he rattles off a succession of innuendo-laden gags.
“Well you have to, it is Dick Whittington…,” he offers by way of explanation. “Audiences expect it, they do. The secret is you can’t do it with a nudge and a wink; you have to do it completely straight. Only the adults will get it in any case and if you play it straight they’ll end up asking themselves if they really heard what they think they heard. It’s great fun.”
Richard is playing Alice’s father Alderman Fitzwarren in his second Dick Whittington having been King Rat in Guildford in the early 1990s. He returned the year after to play Widow Twankey in Aladdin alongside the young Chris Jarvis, his director, co-star and co-writer in Dick Whittington at Lighthouse.
“That was his first panto and he was an absolute delight, we got on so well, so when he got in touch with me – and I hadn’t really seen much of him since then – to ask if I would consider doing Poole again I was: ‘Yes!’ I can’t wait to open.”
Richard had a great time in Poole in last year’s hit production of Cinderella.
“There was an energy going in the company and I think that spilled over into the audience. Also, Lighthouse is a very joined up set up and there’s a nice atmosphere in the theatre. I think that spills over into the audience – a happy company makes a happy audience actually.
“There were people that came last year who were booking next year’s as they were coming out of the theatre. They were saying: ‘Please will you make sure it’s a family panto again.’ So they’ve been promised that’s what they’re getting. I don’t like to use the word traditional in case it makes it sounds stale, but it’s traditional in that it’s the story of Dick Whittington and you’ve got lots of kids in it and lots of dancing and lots of comedy.”
Richard has enjoyed a long and distinguished career on stage as well as in film, television and radio, but he is, of course, instantly recognisable as Herr Flick from the classic 1980s sitcom ’Allo ’Allo. He may or may not make an appearance in Poole this Christmas, for now Richard’s not saying as he’s far too focussed on Dick Whittington.
“I think one of the best things about panto I’ve discovered is that it’s one of the few events that the whole family can go to. Grandparents coming with their children and their grandchildren and there’s a bit of something for everybody in it.
“We establish very quickly that it’s a family type show. The story is important and there’s a kind of innocence about it – and there’s nothing that will make people embarrassed. It’s a big thing, a lot of people are not sure they’re not going to get a comedian that’s going to come and do stuff to them, embarrass them or what have you.”
As well as all the knockabout pantomime action that Poole’s family audience has come to expect Richard is particularly pleased to find the company is again working with choreographer Caroline Barnes from Stagewise, the performing arts school based at Lighthouse.
“The dancing and the singing here are taken very seriously and she is just brilliant – even tiny little kids doing amazing stuff. The little kids in the audience love seeing kids up on stage and there’s always a bit where they come up and get a song sheet and join in.
“And there are lots of references to Poole – I think in our story Dick Whittington comes from Poole. In the second half we get on a ship to get some stock for the stall and we end up shipwrecked on Brownsea Island.
“Oh yes, it’s all very locally sourced – locally sourced sauciness!”
You have been warned…
Words: NIck Churchill
Photos: Richard Budd