It would be unusual for the plot to be the unique selling point for a pantomime, but there’s usually a discernible narrative of some sort. This version of Dick Whittington just about manages it, although it ends rather abruptly – even by panto standards. This is, however, proverbial nitpicking: the sheer comedy value, lavish set and dazzling costumes make this show a memorable experience.
As with last year’s London Palladium panto, most of the punchlines are aimed at ticket bookers rather than their offspring. It stars Julian Clary as the Spirit of the Bells, and has the word Dick in its title. Each of Clary’s costume changes revealed an outfit more spectacular than anything that preceded it. His ad-libs and witty observations had the audience in stitches, leaving Dick Whittington (Charlie Stemp) and his girlfriend Alice Fitzwarren (Emma Williams) struggling – occasionally, in vain – to maintain their composures. Inconspicuous nods to Half A Sixpence included opportunities for Stemp’s Whittington to demonstrate faultless dancing, and a reworked version of ‘Flash Bang Wallop’. And let’s not forget Whittington’s cat, Eileen (Lukus Alexander), slightly underused but nonetheless a worthy addition to proceedings.
Paul Zerdin’s Idle Jack this year was pretty much the same as Paul Zerdin’s Buttons last year, with two scenes involving audience participation taking a similar format – Nina Conti-style masks in the first, silly walks and gifts for children in the second. But it works wonderfully, especially if, like me, one doesn’t really care about whether the participants are plants or not. Elaine Paige as Queen Rat does well to put on the right personality for The Antagonist In A Panto, and proves, after five decades in the industry, her voice is still in fine form, performing revised lyrics to songs that have become part of her repertoire.
While Paige elicited the traditional boos and hisses, I would have expected the show overall to have a few more calls and responses – entire scenes would be completed without any invitation extended to the audience to contribute. The inclusion of Diversity, the winners of the 2009 series of Britain’s Got Talent, necessitates two choreographers for this production, Diversity’s own Ashley Banjo, in the role of The Sultan, and, for the rest of the cast, Karen Bruce. The dancing that results from both creative juices is impressive and a joy to watch.
Nigel Havers in the role of Captain Nigel is, essentially, Nigel Havers cast as Nigel Havers – warm, endearing, pleasant, a gentleman and a gentle man. I couldn’t help but smile at a double entendre about him wanting a bigger part. For all the lighting, special effects, and for some reason, a bus (possibly the largest one seen in the West End since Priscilla, Queen of the Desert played at the Palace Theatre), the most astounding scene for me was Sarah Fitzwarren (Gary Wilmot) naming all (as far I could deduce, anyway) of the stations of the London Underground network in a patter song that thoroughly deserved the sustained applause it received. Oh yes, it did.
Look out, too, for a version of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, riotous and anarchic, as various props are brought on to show the various gifts given (364 in total, the pedant in me must insist). A glitzy and glamorous production that held my attention, unwaveringly, from start to finish.
Review by Chris Omaweng
An enchanting new production of Dick Whittington, produced by Qdos Entertainment, the world’s biggest pantomime producer, and the team behind Cinderella. Starring your returning favourites and some magical new faces including Julian Clary (Spirit of the Bells), musical theatre royalty Elaine Paige (Queen Rat), Ashley Banjo & Diversity, Paul Zerdin (Idle Jack), Nigel Havers (Captain Nigel), Gary Wilmot (Sarah the Cook) and direct from Half A Sixpence – Charlie Stemp as the title role of Dick Whittington.
With an all-star cast, spectacular sets and plenty of laughs, you’ll need to book early to secure the best seats for the greatest pantomime adventure of them all!
9th December 2017 – 14th January 2018
Half A Sixpence (Musical Soundtrack)
Original 2016 London Cast