Tuesday, 2 January 2018

PANTOMIME REVIEW: Dick Whittington at the London Palladium

Last year Cinderella at the London Palladium raised the bar on the scale and production values invested in Christmas Pantomime in a way that few venues could compete with and set the challenge for Michael Harrison in directing this year production of Dick Whittington. 

You can literally see the time and effort invested in this year's show to make it feel bigger and better than last year with nine principles in the cast, twelve in the band and an ensemble of twenty two, all dressed in sumptuous costumes throughout by Ron Briggs with spectacular effects.

The Twins FX team create the huge special effects that are a signature of Qdos pantomimes and this show opens with a ridiculous over the top string of London buses carrying the shows title and then sets the tale in context with a giant rat voiced by last year's star Paul O'Grady. You can imagine someone challenging them to be bigger this year and suggesting flying a London double bus over the audience which they duly oblige at the end of act 1.

In between London buses on stage we are treated to a typical London Palladium variety show with a string of top acts to entertain the huge crowd. Paul Zerdin, with Sam, is a brilliant vent and repeats his performance from last year, as Idle Jack this year. Nigel Havers has managed to grow his walk on part as Captain Nigel since last year and delightfully revels in sending himself up. Julian Clary also returns with an even bigger presence as the spirit of the bells and with each entrance his costumes get more extravagant and the headdresses heavier looking. He is the dominant character, sets the pace of his scenes and reduces cast and audience to laughter.

The additions to last year's cast add a great deal to the show. Elaine Paige as Queen Rat is given plenty of stage time to sing versions of the show tunes that made her famous and send herself up. She proves to be an equal on stage to Clary especially in the duet from Chess "I knew him so well", although it is disappointing that she never actually duels with either Dick or his cat. Gary
Wilmot makes a very likeable dame as Sarah Fitzwarren and is given two wonderful routines, the pun filled sweet trolley and the Tube song which he delivers with great charm and skill. Charlie Stemp is quickly establishing himself as a great musical comedy star following his success in "Half a sixpence" and makes an energetic and entertaining Dick in some excellent dance routines withthe ensemble.

They are supported by Ashley Banjo and Diversity as the Sultan and his advisers (who are integrated into the show dance routines even if they have minimal speaking parts), the beautiful musical performer Emma Williams as Alice and Lukus Alexander as Eileen the cat, although both are under used in this version of the story.

The stand out scenes are the big production numbers with a very strong opening routine in streets of London and the excellent dream sequence as Dick is called back to London by the bells. The choreography and costumes are wonderful filing the stage with gently rocking bells behind Stemp and Clary. Of
course, as always the "Twelve days of Christmas" which is now established as sure fire hit of any Pantomime with Zerdin, Clary, Wilmot and Havers stops the show and literally brings the set down. 

This is a perfect show for the setting of the London Palladium, combining variety acts, musical theatre songs, big production numbers and large scale special effects loosely linked by the pantomime story. It is without doubt the biggest Dick you will see and enjoy and once again raises the bar for next year's as yet unnamed pantomime at the venue.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★
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