Dick Whittington, Phoenix Theatre, London

Reviewer: David Guest

Writer: Gareth Joyner

Director: Christopher D. Clegg

We’ve already had Dick Whittington in Vauxhall this year thanks to Above the Stag, and there’s been a terrific touring version of Rapunzel featuring American and British Drag Race stars. But it’s a real joy to see some top drag talent from TuckSjop at a leading West End venue bringing pantomime sauciness and sassiness to the season with a version of Dick Whittington that is as camp as Christmas.

TuckShop, founded by Christopher D. Clegg, who directs here with gay abandon, has had an amazing year, not least with its hilarious drag whodunit Death Drop, which played at the Garrick Theatre before and after the winter and went on a successful national tour. With this panto they join up with exciting producer Ameena Hamid for all the sparkle, laughs and entertainment we expect and love in pantoland.

With Dick Whittington it’s the icing on the cake: they have brought together nine accomplished drag performers who each earn a cheer and wild applause every time they appear. Every single cast member is given a chance to shine and this they do, even if the script is occasionally forgotten or mangled.

Writer Gareth Joyner (whose alter-ego Myra Dubois is in panto at Bromley this year) squeezes in just about every “Dick” joke imaginable as well as many traditional panto elements. Even when the cast say, “Back to the plot – or what passes for it” we are confident that the script is crafted well enough to endure any missed cues or lines or lack of rehearsal.

The Drag Race UK season 3 queens come across as being the most assured and often leave other cast members in the shade, but there’s not a weak or disappointing performer on stage, which makes the whole experience so enjoyable. It’s high energy from everybody with each new scene.

Runner-up Kitty Scott-Claus is perfect as the Spirit of Soho, with her regular cry of “Turn again, Dick Whittington, or summat…” and she has the audience in the palm of her hand from the first wave of her magic wand. This is a comedy queen at the top of her game and Drag Race UK fans will be delighted to see her recreating her infamous Snatch Game Gemma Collins in the second half.

It’s hard to boo the villainous Queen Rat when played by the brilliantly hilarious Spanish queen Choriza May. Not only does she get to sing her new single My Pussy Is Like a Peach, and appear in disguise as human Pam De Mic, but we’re even given a re-run of her TV lip sync to Lulu’s Shout, complete with wig change.

One of the big delights is Elektra Shock as Dick’s Cat Slater (“spelt with a C coz it’s different”) who displays an enormous talent for comedy and an ability to ad lib even in the face of unfortunate untucking.

There are loads of cheers, too, for Ophelia Love’s unforgettable “Ensemble Member No. 4” who overacts her way through characters as diverse as villagers, ship’s crew and rats, culminating in delivering a thrilling version of My Heart Will Go On from Titanic which Dick and Alive lip sync to.

Drag Race UK season 1 alumnus Cheryl Hole professionally holds it all together as Dick and performs an electrifying version of her near namesake’s Fight for This Love, while the love interest is provided by the fabulous Drag Race Down Under finalist Karen From Finance.

Reminding us that drag isn’t just for queens are the fantastic Beau Jangles, as the glitteringly smooth Lord Mayor (and a dyed-in-the-wool Yorkshireman) with Richard Energy as a plain-speaking Daddy Fitzwarren.

Yshee Black is a marvellously manic Dame Sarah Can’t Cook Won’t Cook and praise too for the “Kit Crew” (?!) dancers, who play the campest rats and seamen you ever saw. A company version of Village People’s In the Navy warms up even the most Scrooge-like audience members.

Justin Williams has designed a cleverly simple set (bearing in mind this show is being performed on Sundays while Come From Away is playing for the rest of the week) with phone kiosk, post box, city rooftops and an Old Compton Street sign serving for every scene, even those on board the good ship SS Iconic.

There’s plenty of Drag Race references for the fans in what is described as this “cis-hetero-normative love story,” including Draglexa, and the mad stumbling through an interesting take on the 12 Days of Christmas before the finale is raucously rib-tickling.

Proving that there’s life beyond Drag Race, TuckShop offers a tasty seasonal confection at the Phoenix Theatre that is merry, bright and queer.

Continues until 9 January 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

As camp as Christmas

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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