Review by Rosie Holmes
It’s the most wonderful time of the year for those looking to visit a pantomime. Visiting my second in as many days, this time it was the turn of Richmond Theatre as they take on the classic tale of Dick Whittington, but would this panto’s path be paved with gold stars?
As in all pantomimes, the plot is thin, padded out with plenty of silliness, audience participation and comedy. The backdrop of this show tells the tale of Dick, a young boy who has come to London to seek his fortune, but upon arriving he finds London has been overrun by rats, led by the Queen Rat, and it is up to Dick and his cat, Eileen, to save the day.
The main celebrity draw of this production is comedian Paul Merton as the classic dame, appearing in ridiculously over the top costumes and conversing with the audience. It's clear Merton is comfortable in front of a crowd, with many of the show’s funniest lines being delivered and written by himself. However, some are a little too drawn out, especially for an audience made up of mostly young children. Similarly, while it’s the sign of a good pantomime to appeal to all age groups, occasionally there is just a little too much innuendo (to be expected, I suppose, in a show with a title character named Dick) and I feel there could have been a bit more slapstick humour and silliness, rather than the wordier jokes the star seemed to favour.
Suki Webster, married to Merton in real life, plays Sarah the Sweet-Maker. I was quite surprised to hear they were married, as they didn’t seem to have an abundance of chemistry, though both were full of energy throughout. However, they did perform one lovely skit, in which they reference Merton’s role as a panellist on Have I got News for You with some very witty one-liners. Vivien Parry takes on the role of the pantomime villain, doing her job very well and being met with loud ‘boos’ every time she appeared on stage. Jack Danson is a very likeable Dick Whittington, and Erin Sophie Halliday makes her professional debut as the earnest Alice Fitzwarren. Charlie Smart plays Eileen the Cat, deliberately named for repeated chants of ‘Come on Eileen’ as he followed behind, which rather childishly made me laugh every time. Smart was definitely underused, and it would have been nice to see him dancing a little more, especially since his role was non-speaking.
Produced by Crossroads Pantomimes, who produce 24 pantomimes across the country every year, some of the material is recycled. A rewritten rendition of Half a Sixpence’s ‘Flash Bang Wallop’ features lyrics such as ‘the greatest candy store in London!’ originally performed by Charlie Stemp when he played title character Dick, in the Palladium Pantomime as a nod to his role as Kipps in Half a Sixpence. However, it proves a very successful number and certainly livens the audience up with lively choreography after a bit of a slow start. Also featuring in the show is Dua Lipa’s ‘Dance the Night’ sure to be panto’s most popular song of 2023 after being featured in New Wimbledon Theatre’s offering this year too. Also used in the show was a reworking of Billie Eilish’s ‘Bad Guy’, in a successful performance by Vivien Parry, which delighted the younger members whereas the Elvis song was perhaps an odd choice, going over the heads of many.
Sound design could be improved, the music occasionally a little too loud, and singing a little too quiet. Set design was very much what one would expect from a pantomime, cartoon-like drawings transporting us to medieval London, or even to the bottom of the sea. I was hoping for a few more effects, especially after seeing a flying carriage the night before, or even some confetti. But for the most part, the children around me were still mightily impressed.
With a pantomime, you know what you are going to get, and that’s the chance to shout and cheer as an audience member, some silliness, some dance numbers and some star names. Richmond Theatre ticks all these boxes, making it a lovely festive outing, it just seemed to lack a little bit of magic.
Dick Whittington plays at Richmond Theatre until Sunday 7thJanuary 2024, tickets are available here - Dick Whittington Tickets | 2023 Panto at Richmond Theatre | ATG Tickets
Photos by Craig Sugden