Writers: Michael Harrison and Alan McHugh
Director: Michael Harrison
Reviewer: James Garrington
It says something about the quality of a pantomime cast when a performer of the calibre of Danielle Hope, who won TV’s Over the Rainbow and starred in the Hippodrome’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, is pushed off the show poster by bigger names – and they’ve certainly pulled out all the stops for this year’s Dick Whittington.
Producers Qdos Entertainment are presenting the first West End pantomime for 30 years this Christmas, but that doesn’t mean they’ve taken their eye off the ball when it comes to the regions. Far from it – if anything, this panto is bigger and better than ever, and there’s a huge array of talent on stage. The script, by Michael Harrison and Alan McHugh, tells the rags-to-riches tale that we all know and includes all the expected topical and local references, with a lot of humour – though it often seems to be tossed aside with gay abandon by a cast who are more than happy to make their own comedy as well.
Leading proceedings in the title role is John Barrowman, well known for his many appearances on our TV screens as well as on stage. Barrowman is an all-round entertainer and absolutely at home in any pantomime. He has a great ability to work with the audience and his fellow performers to wring every ounce of comedy from everything he does – and with a hugely infectious and mischievous grin on his face while he’s doing it. There is great chemistry between Barrowman and his co-stars The Krankies with lots of apparently ad-libbed humour which all adds to the fun – though they should take care that it doesn’t edge too close to being aimed at the adults at the expense of entertaining the children in the audience.
The Krankies – Ian and Janette Tough – have been working together for a very long time, and it shows in the way they are able to feed off each other. Star of the show, though, is local pantomime favourite Matt Slack, who receives by far the biggest welcome of the evening and certainly doesn’t disappoint. His comedy is far more slapstick than Barrowman’s, and between them all they create an experience that is pretty much non-stop laughs from start to finish. Above all, it looks as though they’re all having great fun on stage, and they take the audience with them.
Playing the bad guy is Steve McFadden, a suitably evil King Rat, although he is almost pushed to the sidelines by a script that is aimed more at comedy and effects than plot. Jodie Prenger also seems a little underused as Fairy Bow Bells, as does Danielle Hope as a slightly wet love interest Alice. With the level of vocal talent you have with Barrowman, Prenger and Hope on stage it would be nice to hear more singing – although what they get to do, they do well.
Being a Qdos production you expect high production values, and you get them. There’s the expected flying and 3D effects, beautiful sets and spectacular lighting (designed as usual by Ian Westbrook and Ben Cracknell). The costumes are also glorious – not least those worn by Birmingham panto dame regular Andrew Ryan as Sarah the Cook which become increasingly outrageous as the performance progresses.
A spectacular night out, Dick Whittington is full of energy, full of laughs and full of fun.
Runs until 29 January 2017| Image: Paul Coltas