Writer and Director: Ian Adams
Reviewer: Clare White
There is much to celebrate at Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre, as this year’s spectacular seasonal offering Dick Whittington coincides with the venue’s 125th anniversary.
In search of fame and fortune, ambitious Dick arrives in London believing the streets are paved with gold. However, his quest for success is blighted by the villainous Queen Rat, who frames him for stealing from Fitzwarren’s Bazaar. Guided by Fairy Bow Bells and his trusty cat Tom, he sets off on a mission to clear his name and win the heart of Fitzwarren’s daughter Alice.
It’s a classic fairytale retelling in the best of British pantomime tradition (a dame, a dunce and some dodgy puns) with topical references and regional ribbing (Boris Johnson, Prince Andrew and Aston Villa all take a hit) plus there’s music, magic and a talking cat. In this special 125th anniversary gala performance, there is also a one-night-only appearance from comedy legend Jimmy Tarbuck.
Coronation Street actor Ryan Thomas does a sound job as our earnest hero Dick Whittington. He is joined by Hi-De-Hi and You Rang M’Lord? stars Su Pollard and Walsall-born Jeffrey Holland, reunited as the evil Queen Rat and Alderman Fitzwarren. These experienced stage and screen entertainers know how to work a crowd of all ages, and Pollard, in particular, is great fun as the cranky queen of rats.
Ian Adams takes on a multi-faceted role as writer, director and vivacious Dame Sarah for an impressive fourth year in a row and does a fine job on all (buxom) fronts, slipping in innuendos at every turn. Choreographer Julie Paton also multitasks, a shimmering, singing delight as Fairy Bow Bells and impressionist Aaron James makes brilliant panto debut as Idle Jack.
A talented ensemble of professional dancers and young performers from the Classic Academy of Dance in Willenhall accompanies the cast in what is a colourful, visually captivating show – the sets and costumes dazzle.
While the first act is well-paced and ends with a dramatic (slightly terrifying) giant rat, the second feels a little drawn out with non-essential musical numbers – the skits and audience participation elements have more value in this show. And we don’t see the giant rat again, which seems a waste.
There is something for everyone in this funny, family production. The Grand has a panto formula that works, and yes, the jokes may have all been done before, but for mini audience members hearing them for the first time, it’s sweet and silly in the best possible way.
Runs until 12 January 2020 Image: Tim Thursfield – Express & Star