Haslemere Thespians’ 2023 pantomime Dick Whittington promises a rollicking good time for all the family. Packed with bawdy jokes, hilarious set piece gags, audience participation and high-quality script, costumes and musical numbers, this is an amateur panto not to be missed.

We first took our daughters, then aged four and seven, to last year’s Thespians’ panto Jack and the Beanstalk – and loved it so much that we couldn’t miss this year’s show. It didn’t disappoint and my girls again left Haslemere Hall declaring it “the best panto ever!”.

The performance, at 11am on Sunday, was the fourth of an eight-show run continuing until this Saturday, and there wasn’t a spare seat to be seen. The audience was made up predominantly of families, as well as a large group from 1st and 2nd Shottermill Brownies, and Liphook Beavers, testament to the enduring popularity of the local panto.

From the moment the villainous King Rat (played by Richard Ashton) opened the show in a flash of pyrotechnics, we knew we were in for another spectacular afternoon.

Taking centre stage from the off, Naomi Robertson once again put in a star turn as the comic lead, Idle Jack, and had the audience in the palm of her hand – getting giggles even when out of the spotlight.

Tony Creasey as Sarah the Cook was also a joy to watch, bringing great energy and humour to his role as the panto dame – combining well with seasoned stage actor David Greenwood, who made his Thespians’ panto debut as both Alderman Fitzwarren and his brother Captain Horatio, playing his part in several superbly crafted slapstick routines.

Both Helen Coyte, as a thigh-splapping Dick Whittington, and Izzy Gammon, as the “lovely” Alice Fitzwarren (a part she is sharing with Izzi Collins), enjoyed their first principal roles and grew in confidence as the show went on.

And the Thespians’ favourite fairy Caroline Thompson returned as Fairy Bowbells, while producer Sally Waghorn put in a brilliant late cameo as the Miranda Richardson-inspired Empress of Morocco.

But the performance that got my daughters ‘meowing’ long into the afternoon was given by Lizzie Hales as Tommy the cat – the ever-frustrated, Charades-playing feline companion tasked by Fairy Bowbells to help Dick Whittington rid London of the plague of rats. Though short on lines, Lizzie’s performance really was the cat’s whiskers!

The jokes were often crude, in the finest panto tradition, but finished just on the right side of the line to keep the kids guessing. There were plenty of belly laughs for all ages, as well as a few squeals as the audience were squirted with water pistols at the end of one routine!

Overall, Haslemere Thespians’ panto Dick Whittington is a must-see new year treat – and a real community-spirited antidote to the bigger theatre, bigger price pantomimes.

Buy your tickets from £10 at www.haslemerehall.co.uk