Dick Whittington And His Cat @ Barbican Theatre, London

cast list
Roger Lloyd Pack
Summer Strallen
Debbie Chazen
Danny Worters
Miles Jupp
Toby Sedgewick

directed by
Edward Hall
The news that the Barbican had commissioned Mark Ravenhill, the enfant terrible of British theatre, to write a family-friendly Christmas show seemed as misguided as asking a cannibal to baby-sit, but the results are surprisingly traditional. His Dick Whittington is a straight down the line pantomime, a seasonal explosion of boos and hisses, behind yous, songs and jokes, guaranteed to get the kids laughing and keep their chaperones amused.

The tale of Dick Whittington has not been tampered with, deviating little from the well-trod fable of rats, cats and romance that this reviewer grew up with. But this was a big budget production, packed with some big names and sprinkled with a few cheeky jokes, a good scattering of contemporary quips to keep parents onside.

Michael Howells’ props and scenery are fantastic and have the feel of hand-drawn cartoons come to life. The boat, the Saucy Sal and the royal palace in Morocco are wonders to behold, making you feel just like you are stepping straight into the pages of your favourite fairy tale.

The series of provocative costumes worn by Roger ‘Trigger’ Lloyd Pack’s dame are also highly creative and you couldn’t help but crack a huge smile every time he wandered on stage, resplendent in drag, with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. But while he was always eye catching, his performance lacked oomph; he could have easily been given a run for his money by a seasoned dame in a regional panto.

Fortunately the rest of the cast are stronger. Summer Strallen, as the thigh-slapping Dick Whittington, could give Bonnie Langford a run for her money. She makes a great lead, although the fight scenes with King Rat failed to pack enough punch, and in parts her voice was drowned out by the band.

Debbie Chazen excels as the sparkling, rotund Fairy BowBells, and Miles Jupp and Toby Sedgwick make a great duo as Port and Lemon, the Laurel and Hardy of the piece, a pair of great stage clowns. Danny Worters (the young lead in the National’s recent Market Boy) is also great as Totally Lazy Jack, though he did look a bit pained to find himself leading the final song: The Barbican-can-can. In fact, this finale was neither catchy or rip-roaringly amusing, a criticism applicable to all the songs in this tuneful production; despite some big guns, like Dillie Keane of Fascinating Aida fame, writing the score, the songs were feeble.

Ribald in parts but as kid-friendly as a sale in a toy shop, Edward Hall’s Dick Whittington is a thoroughly acceptable pantomime, but more than anything it evokes a fondness for the unpolished pantos of the provinces, the ones that achieve all this and more on the back of their raucous performances alone, without relying on big name writing talent to bring in the punters.

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