Panto season is upon us. Oh yes it is! And you really can't beat a nice bit of Dick of Christmas. The second annual Drag show from TuckShopUK takes up residency at the Phoenix Theatre for six performances only, but if you go there hoping to see Come From Away, you'll be greeted by references to a very different kind of come. Reuniting the creative team of Chris Clegg and Ameena Hamid, who also brought us Death Drop, Dick Whittington continues their streak of giving Drag shows a prominent home in the West End.
Dick Whittington stars a gaggle of stars from RuPaul's Drag Race. Kitty Scott Claus, Cheryl Hole, Choriza May and Elektra Fence with the UK seasons all appear, while we even get a member from the 'Down Under' series as Karen From Finance joins the cast. They are joined by a group of talented Drag Kings and Queens - Yshee Black, Ophelia Love, Richard Energy and Beau Jangles with the cast completed with two strapping male dancers including the wonderful Alex Conder.
So let's talk about the plot... Ok, now that we've talked about that, let's talk about more substantial things. Obviously plots are secondary when it comes to panto, but put together a bunch of Drag Kings and Queens and it becomes pretty much non existent. Written by Gareth Joyner who you may know as performer Myra DuBois, this has all the classic elements of a panto and features a series of scenes stuck together to attempt to form a bit of a narrative, but we're all having so much fun, it really doesn't matter.
Cheryl Hole takes on Dick in this production, stomping around the stage and of course paying tribute to his namesake with a fabulous routine to 'Fight For This Love'. She also forms a formidable double act with love interest Karen, peaking with a beautiful duet... in the form of the 'Home & Away' theme tune. Kitty gets to bring out her brilliant Gemma Collins impersonation, while Choriza camps it up brilliantly as Queen Rat.
It's actually some of the smaller, more supporting roles that get the biggest moments, Ophelia Love might just be "Ensemble member number 4" but she endears herself to the audience with fabulous over the top moments, ensuring all eyes are on her. Yshee Black gets her tongue around some serious twisters as Dame Sarah, Beau Jangles is a standout as The Mayor of Soho while Elektra Fence steals every single scene as Dick's pussy 'Cat Slater (with a C)'. Whether it be an untucking mishap or forgetting most of her lines, you can't help but fall in love with her so much, you'd want to give her a stroke.
Full of references to pop culture, musical theatre and, of course, Drag Race, Dick Whittington will appeal to a broad section of the public... just maybe leave the kids at home for this one. Musical numbers are few and far between in this panto, but the moments we do get are pretty damn good. A mix of lipsyncs and live vocals, highlights include a beautiful reworking of 'WAP' and even a performance of 'My Heart Will Go On' - even if the lyrics weren't always in the right order.
This was the very first performance the cast have done to an audience but my God, it was shambolic at times. That might sound like a negative thing but in this case it really isn't. Ultimately you go to panto to have fun, and there really isn't going to be a pantomine this season as fun as this. A take on the 12 days of Christmas descended into utter madness while a scene based on "Who's on first" probably shouldn't ever be attempted again. There were so many mishaps and fluffed lines in the show, it started to blur the lines and make you wonder which of them (if any) were intentional and which were genuine mistakes. That in itself is a testament to the show and the atmosphere it created. Ultimately, I embraced the chaos and found myself laughing harder than I have in the theatre all year.
After the year we've all had, there's nothing that will make it feel like it's behind us than a good bit of Dick, and this mammoth offering is too juicy to not enjoy. Perhaps elements will be cut before the next performance but I'm sure what is left will be a more polished (as polished as panto gets) version. It may be camp nonsense but isn't that what we all need? It's also fantastic to have Queer work like this playing at a major West End theatre. We may be used to seeing Queer shows like this shoved down a back alley to play some off-off-off-off-off West End theatre but now it's made it to the West End! If you're looking for a good hard laugh this season, there's nothing like Dick... or summat.
Dick Whittington plays at the Phoenix Theatre on Sunday 12th and 19th December as well as Tuesday 4th and Sunday 9th January. Tickets from https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/dick-whittington/phoenix-theatre/
Photos by Corinne Cumming.