THERE’S a rodent problem at a local theatre but you won’t need to call pest control because the whiskered mischief maker is none other than King Rat.
That’s right, it’s panto time again and last week the Solihull News was invited behind the scenes of the show, to see the cast crossing swords, swashing buckles and, more dangerous still, dancing to One Direction.
Robin Johnson, no relation to that other Mayor of London, Boris, is playing the thrice-elected hero for the third time at the theatre.
“I get to run around with a sword, it’s like every boy’s dream,” he laughs. “We have to choreograph it very carefully, like a dance, as we don’t want any accidents on opening night.”
He confesses he hasn’t seen his costume yet, but at least knows he’ll have a different wardrobe to last year’s leading man Robin Hood. “No tights for me.”
Robin will be locking horns with the aforementioned King Rat, played by Darren Haywood - who will be twirling his tail and singing Queen’s We Will Rock You.
“I love playing the baddie,” says the Birmingham-born actor. “The more the children hate you then the better the job you’re doing. Any other role you’d be mortified if they booed you.
“I’ve just finished a run of Stephen King’s Misery, where I was tortured and abused for weeks, so I’m looking forward to getting my own back in this.
“And actually I don’t mind rats. I know some people aren’t keen, but I think they’ve got an unfair reputation.”
The cast is a mix of old hands and new faces - Claire Micallef, who has been in the dancing troupe for five years, has been cast as the Cat in this year’s show. “The interaction with the audience makes it special,” she says. “You can rehearse the whole thing, but you won’t know exactly what happens until the first performance.”
Spending her first Christmas in Solihull is 23-year-old Hannah Pritchard, fresh from filming Channel 4’s new teenage drama to play Alice Fitzwarren.
“What I love about panto is that it’s typically British. And it was seeing things like this that first got me performing myself.”
Malcolm Stent, who writes and stars in the show, says Dick Whittington is a return to a traditional choice after last year’s first-time foray into Sherwood Forest.
But he promises the normal nudge and a wink about the Mason’s Arms and topical jokes. Any mention of the Leveson Inquiry?
“Maybe a bit of that,” he replies, “and of course there may be a few nods to the Olympics.”
Dick Whittington runs until January 13. Tickets on 0121 704 6962.