I’ve been looking forward to this show ever since last year’s extravaganza which was the best this hardcore pantomime enthusiast has ever seen (and yes – that does include Les Dawson as the nurse in Babes in the Wood…) And the same writer/dame as last year boded well for this year’s effort. I was delighted to see that the guy who played the King last year was back too. I was very slightly (though unnecessarily in this particular case) worried by the closest that Greenwich Panto has ever come to “celebrity” performers (a dangerous route in my humble opinion – unknowns have to work harder which usually produces better performances) in the two young leads – rejects from two of those ‘find-a-star-for-a-revival-of-a-safe-family-musical’ programmes.
I was surprised at how quiet the theatre itself was – I know it’s early in the season but I’m sure last year was much busier at even this time in the run. Half-full, I’d have said – which after last year’s triumph was staggering. As it was there was a respectable number of brownies and other sundry tots, but generally far more adults than kids – which did, at least, have the benefit of everyone knowing what to do in the way of audience participation.
Dick Whittington is probably my favourite panto – and though the plot is as thin as the ice on the O2 rink that’s never a real problem in this art-form. Need a spot of padding in panto? Add a slop-scene or a song. And there are a LOT of songs, mainly 80s favourites, well-chosen for the characters and very well-sung. Familiar cliches and knowing nods to even more familiar cliches work well and slick choreography milks every film/TV/advert/music/popular culture reference in the book.
It’s wonderfully local – set in The City of London “via Greenwich,” ahem, there is a fantastic frontcloth with a view of “Olde Greenwich,” complete with Observatory and, er, Canary Wharf. Sadly, I think they must have spent the entire budget on that frontcloth (and Dick’s Mum’s utterly fabulous wardrobe) as the rest of the set is, frankly, a disappointment – unexcitingly designed and averagely executed. Does that matter? Not really when you’ve got great performers, but pantomime is all about spectacle and the set is a big part of that glamour. This one smacked of am-dram.
The performances don’t, though. All of them are excellent – from the wonderful fairy who belts out Motown numbers in between ringing her magic Bow bells to a very sweet cat and the camply-wicked King Rat who minces about the stage with comedy rodents. Even the chorus guys are solidly good. Dick’s Mum, Mrs Wilhelmina Whittington, is a superb dame – and great with the kids – but we all knew that anyway. Her best frock was, I think, either Dolly Parton, Gospel Singer or Sexy Harem Siren – but there were so many others saucy outfits (even if none was as saucy as the Heinz Soup get-up last year) it was difficult to decide. My fave character of all, though, was jolly Alderman Fitzwarren whose merry-old-soul persona is perfect for pantomime. Long may he play at Greenwich.
The two lovers are good actors and great singers, with loads of energy. They made extremely personable leads. But the ingenue roles are, frankly, a bit of a poisoned chalice in panto. My absolute favourite moment last year was definitely the lovers’ song (usually the worst moment in every panto – the cue for dozens of small children to troop out to the loo) where the whole thing was totally sent up by naughty upstaging from the comic characters, taken to a whole, sublime new level. This year, possibly because Alice and Dick are such good singers, it was played straight. It was nice – very nice, in fact – but I missed the comedy.
So – is the show any good? Well – yes, actually, it is. I laughed and laughed and laughed – so much so that my face was still hurting by the time my (rather large) party got to the restaurant afterwards. If I hadn’t seen last year’s I’d have even said it was brilliant. There are a few slow moments – but it’s early in the run and they will get slicker – and I could have taken a spot more slop in the slop-scene. But this is still a great local panto and an excellent way to get into the festive mood. Get your tickets now.