“We just need someone to run London”
Dick Whittington and his Cat is the Lyric Hammersmith’s choice of pantomime this year with its ageless tale of a young boy making his way to London to find his fortune. Updating the story slightly to include all sorts of modern references and something of a street sensibility, it does a great job of observing the golden rule of pantomime of keeping its audience engaged and ensuring that the humour contained within hits on all levels, amusing young and old alike, working in slapstick, sight gags, silliness and a fair old bit of smut in Joel Horwood and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s excellent script.
There’s a steady flow of musical numbers, mainly up-to-the-minute pop songs like Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ ‘Empire State of Mind’, Katy Perry’s ‘California Gurls’ and Glee’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ featuring lyrical changes to make them London- and Hammersmith –specific. The best of them though is the genuinely funny take on Lady GaGa’s ‘Bad Romance’ by King Rat, Bad Rodent, which both excellently comic and creepy and it is nice to see the amount of effort that has gone into adapting all these songs in an integrated way into the show, rather than making them simple karaoke numbers.
Steven Webb’s clean-cut and slightly dim hero Dick is well played, wisely steering clear of too much knowingness around the constant punning around his name, instead offering a fresh appeal that connects directly to the young audience. Rosalind James, fresh off the hugely successful 25th Anniversary Les Misérables tour, is a strong-voiced ballsy heroine as Alice, Nathan Bryon’s Scaramouche is nicely appealing and Simon Kunz is clearly having an absolute ball as the dastardly King Rat. But it is Paul J Medford’s über-cool street-smart Cat who shines through with his enthusiasm and constant interactions with the audience and Shaun Prendergast’s dame in Sarah the Cook who is relentlessly outrageous with dresses that put Lady GaGa to shame, firing out jokes like a machine gun and tossing sweets into the hands of the audience. He builds a great connection with his audience, playing a bit with a couple in the front row and adlibbing brilliantly to a precocious young boy with particular knowledge about gorillas.
Director Steve Marmion keeps proceedings moving quickly, not lingering too much on the paper-thin plot but not even Lainie Bird’s choreography can save the island scenes on Timbukthree from falling a little flat as there’s not enough audience participation in this section. And I felt the Bells who are sporadic narrators, voiced by QI alumni Stephen Fry and Alan Davies, were a little underwhelming, not quite used enough nor as consistently funny as one might have hoped. But these are minor quibbles as the majority of the script is littered with some comic gems, witty wordplay and the requisite risqué gags which, as they fly over the kids’ heads, will keep parents guffawing. This Dick Whittington is great mix of the contemporary and traditional, aware of the need to adapt to modern audiences but never losing sight of what pantomime is all about: sheer unadulterated fun for all the family.