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Dick Whittington at Richmond Theatre

Crossroads Pantomimes produces, according to the show’s programme, twenty-four pantos a year (global pandemics aside) – twenty-three ‘regional’ ones and the London Palladium panto, the latter having become, over recent years, more of a variety show than a pantomime. But it’s worth noting that elements of the 2017 Palladium panto have crept into the 2023 Richmond one – the most obvious one being reworked lyrics to ‘Flash, Bang, Wallop!’ from Half A Sixpence. In 2017 it was a nod to Charlie Stemp, who played the title role in Dick Whittington at the Palladium that year, and while it’s far from out of place in this production, it strongly suggests, if not outrightly confirms, that this isn’t something put together entirely from scratch.

Paul Merton - Credit Craig Sugden.
Paul Merton – Credit Craig Sugden.

The original material, as far as I could tell, comes courtesy of Paul Merton’s Sarah The Cook and Suki Webster’s Suki The Sweet Maker. Surprisingly, at least to me, it is only Merton’s second panto as a dame, and Webster’s panto debut. Merton is, of course, best known for his BBC appearances, having been on Radio 4’s Just A Minute for decades, as well as a panellist on BBC1’s Have I Got News For You, at the time of writing in its sixty-sixth series. Regardless, one would be forgiven for thinking Merton must have been playing a panto dame for as long as his HIGNFY stint. And it’s all there – the ad-libs, the banter, the rapport with a multigenerational audience. A closing lyric suggests Dick (a very likeable Jack Danson) has saved the day, though I would argue the show wouldn’t have been as amusing as it was without Sarah, who even sends up the show’s writers – she’s The Cook who hasn’t cooked a thing and Suki is The Sweet Maker who hasn’t made any sweets. The very best punchlines, alas, would be nothing short of spoilers.

Dick Whittington is not the easiest panto to pull off: while The Spirit of Bow Bells (Wendy Mae Brown) was heartily cheered on every time she made an appearance, there wasn’t much, if any, magic required, with a combination of sword fights and – wait for it – closed circuit television deployed in the battle of good over evil. Vivien Parry did an excellent job as Queen Rat, with the audience passionately booing without the need to be encouraged to do so (always, paradoxically, a good sign).

The sound balance wasn’t quite right, however, with the orchestra, directed by Pierce Tee, occasionally too loud, such that some lyrics couldn’t be heard properly, at least not from my vantage point. That said, all of the spoken dialogue was enunciated beautifully. Commendably, the singalong section was so straightforward that there was no need for the lyrics to be displayed. Dick Whittington’s cat, Eileen (Charlie Smart) was largely if not entirely given that name to allow for repeated calls of ‘Come on, Eileen!’ – you’d need to be of a certain age to even remember the Dexys Midnight Runners tune.

In the end, it’s a panto that ticks a lot of boxes, with a cast enjoying themselves and an audience enjoying the experience. Loud and lively, this panto never drags, maintaining a healthy energy from beginning to end.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Join Dick Whittington as he seeks fame, fortune, and happiness journeying to become Lord Mayor. Can he outwit the evil rodent Queen Rat and free the city from her team of revolting rodents? Find out in the ultimate magical pantomime adventure!

Writer, actor, comedian, radio and television presenter Paul Merton will be stepping out from behind the iconic Have I Got News For You desk and donning the Panto Dame’s heels at Richmond Theatre this Christmas! He will be joined by comedian Suki Webster as Suki the Sweet Maker, musical theatre performer Wendy Mae Brown as Spirit of the Bells and West End star Vivien Parry as Queen Rat. Joining the cast will be Jack Danson as the titular Dick Whittington, Erin Sophie Halliday as Alice, and Charlie Smart as The Cat. Our fabulous ensemble features Ryan Lee, Tamika Williamson, Darcy Owen, Harley Charles, Daisy Southall and Callum O’Brien.

Book tickets for Dick Whittington at Richmond Theatre from Saturday 9th December to Sunday 7th January 2024.

View all shows booking now at Richmond Theatre.

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1 thought on “Dick Whittington at Richmond Theatre”

  1. Sorry I really didn’t enjoy this panto I felt it was lifeless and lacked soul I was very disappointed – there seemed no connnection between the cast but the dancers energy held it together I will be back to Woking next year

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