Panto struck second blow but show still goes on thanks to understudy

Nicholas Jones as Dick Whittington with his castmates.

Lucia Valentino (R) stepped in as Alice Fitzwarren after actor Jarnéia Richard-Noel could no longer perform Monday due to Covid. Nicholas Jones (front) as Dick Whittington with (back L-R) Shakeel Kimotho as Beau Bells, Jarnéia Richard-Noel as Alice Fitzwarren and dancer Lucia Valentino. - Credit: Nicholas Jones

Norwich Theatre Royal's panto production was struck another blow after a second leading star was hit by Covid - but the show still went on.

Jarnéia Richard-Noel, who is playing Alice Fitzwarren in the production of Dick Whittington and his Cat, could not perform on Monday following a Covid-related absence.

But despite been given less than an hour's notice, the show was able to go on after understudy Lucia Valentino took to the stage instead.

Dancer Lucia Valentino said: "Stepping in as Alice was the most exciting and hardest challenge I've ever had to do.

"I was so nervous when I was told the news. With just under an hour's notice, I had a quick run-through of the script and songs, and with the support from the fantastic cast and crew, I made it through two shows and loved every second of it."

Jarnéia Richard-Noel, Joe Tracini and Gyasi Sheppy in Dick Whittington and his Cat. 

Both Jarnéia Richard-Noel, playing Alice Fitzwarren, and Gyassi Sheppy, playing Dick Whittington, have been unable to perform due to Covid-related absences - Credit: Laura Francis

This is the second time an understudy has had to take on a leading role due to Covid.

Actor Gyasi Sheppy, who is playing lead role Dick Whittington, was no longer able to perform after having to isolate.

Dancer Nicholas Jones stepped into the role on New Year's Eve and will continue until at least January 6.

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Stephen Crocker, creative director and chief executive of Norwich Theatre, said: "We are so proud of the resilience, hard work and adaptability of our pantomime cast and crew during what has been a challenging time for the whole theatre sector.

"We've had to deal with a number of Covid-related absences across the whole company and our back-up and contingency planning for this eventuality has stood us in good stead, with all shows so far having gone ahead as planned.

"This has included a range of adaptations to the show, including understudies covering a handful of principal roles and they have done a tremendous job.

"We know audiences to Dick Whittington and his Cat are thoroughly enjoying this festive and new year treat, and we thank them as well for supporting the covid-secure measures we have in place."

Performances of Dick Whittington and his Cat continue at Norwich Theatre Royal until Sunday, January 9.