If you’d told me 10 years ago that a pantomime would become a regular highlight of my theatrical year, I’d have laughed in your face.
These days, I’d still laugh in your face, but only after I’d smooshed a cream pie into it and made a gag about you having a mouthful.
This change of heart is almost entirely down to the whatever strange witchcraft panto impresarios Paul Hendy and Emily Wood have in their fingertips. Their company, Evolution Productions, is responsible for the last 11 pantomimes at the Marlowe (as well as countless others around the UK), and it has raised the bar in this peculiarly British artform.
What this means, is that when a Marlowe panto doesn’t quite hit the same heights as previous productions, it’s still better than nearly anything else out there.
And so it is with Dick Whittington.
While it’s superior to other Christmas shows seen this year, it doesn’t hang together as well as it could. The story of Dick Whittington is confused, and some scenes feel disconnected from the narrative thread. This leads to scenes that are very strong if standing alone (a raucous, messy scene involving water, cream and a tilting stage, and an exhilarating trampoline act starring Britain’s Got Talent alumnus Vladimir Georgievsky), but which feel like they’ve been imported from another show when taken as a whole.
The cast are uniformly excellent. Again, scene after scene is stolen by the Marlowe’s dame-on-retainer, Ben Roddy.
And what’s particularly nice to see is Roddy’s companion Lloyd Hollett get the chance to show off his voice. His take on Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat from Guys and Dolls, is the outstanding musical performance of the show, and I hope he gets solo numbers in the future.
The show is rammed with smart musical references, courtesy of musical director Chris Wong. It’s refreshing to not be beaten over the head with these references, too. For example, a reworking of the title song from Broadway hit Hamilton.
Ultimately, Dick Whittington is hugely entertaining. Your kids certainly aren’t going to notice the little imperfections and the whole family will leave the show smiling. And that’s the whole point, isn’t it?