Writers: Matt Slack and Alan McHugh
Original Music and songs: Marti Pellow and Grant Mitchell
Lyrics: Shaun McKenna
Director: Michael Harrison
The Birmingham Hippodrome at Christmas can mean only one thing – it’s panto time, and once again we have a spectacle featuring a host of well-known names in this year’s offering, Dick Whittington. Possibly the most familiar, in Birmingham panto terms at least, is Matt Slack who is now pretty much established as a regular, back this year for his ninth consecutive Hippodrome appearance (and already booked again for next year, such is his popularity among Birmingham audiences).
There is no doubt that Slack is incredibly good at what he does. His comedy skills are outstanding, and his spontaneous interactions with the audience – and with his fellow performers – are carried out with great skill. He’s so at home in the role that he makes it look easy. This year he finds himself playing the title role, but at the end of the day Matt Slack is Matt Slack, and you know exactly what sort of performance you’re going to get. Much of his comedy is aimed very squarely at the adults in the audience rather than their children, though – and with a title character called Dick who’s accompanied by a cat, it’s not hard to guess the direction many of the jokes take. Obvious jokes aside, there’s also some more topical and political stuff including a section full of some very funny comedy impressions.
Marti Pellow is back at the Hippodrome as the baddie again, this time playing the Ratman. Pellow clearly enjoys this sort of role and he does it pretty well, though it is a shame that the sound balance means that so much of his dialogue and vocal is lost, particularly during the first scene where he introduces himself and his rats. Also back at the Hippodrome is Suzanne Shaw as a sweet but underused Alice Fitzwarren – the focus of this panto is definitely more on the comedy than the music, even though there are two established vocalists on the stage (and Slack has shown himself to be pretty skilled in the vocal department too).
You can guarantee a safe pair of hands with Andrew Ryan back as the Dame, now in his 32nd year playing the role. Ryan’s partnership with Slack never disappoints, and alongside him as Doreen the Cat we have Doreen Tipton, a Midlands favourite who’s rapidly establishing herself on the pantomime stage with another adaptation of the character she’s established over the years, based on her having Lazy Cow Syndrome. TV’s Dr Ranj makes an appearance too, as the Spirit of the Bells, showing that he has good comedy skills too.
This year feels a little less like a variety show than it sometimes has in the past, where we’ve had a succession of people only there to do their act, adding nothing to the plot – though it wouldn’t be a Hippodrome panto without at least one and this year it’s Spark Fire Dance, with a routine based around tricks using fire. A final mention must also go to the ensemble, the often unsung heroes of the show who provide a regular backdrop to the action involving some extremely quick costume changes.
You know what you’re going to get with a Hippodrome panto, and Dick Whittington delivers. There’s comedy, spectacle and effects, in a show that’s aimed at adults as much as children with some quite risqué humour that’s pitched at just the right level to go over the heads of the younger audience members. It’s very funny and highly entertaining: a guaranteed highlight rounding off the Hippodrome year.
Runs Until 29 January 2023