L to R Paul Merton, Suki Webster, Wendy Mae Brown, Jack Danson and Erin Sophie Halliday (Credit Craig Sugden).

Dick Whittington at Richmond Theatre is ‘an absolute joy’

Set in London some time ago, our story begins with Dick Whittington (Jack Danson), our hero from Gloucester, who has travelled to London to earn his fortune. The streets are supposedly paved with gold, after all. On arrival, he quickly meets Alice (Erin Sophie Halliday), they fall in love at first sight, and are destined to be together. We’re also swiftly introduced to Suki, the Sweet Maker (Suki Webster) who doesn’t seem to make any sweets, and Sarah, the Cook (Paul Merton) who doesn’t seem to do much cooking. Dick quickly finds out that not only are the streets not paved with gold, but roaming with rats, led by the villainous Queen Rat (Vivien Parry). The story may skimp on the details, although Merton delivers a hilarious story recap in Act 2 to confirm that, yes, we are as confused as the cast are. What this panto loses in the plot, however, it certainly makes up for in gags, pace, and musical theatre finesse.

Paul Merton - Credit Craig Sugden.
Paul Merton – Credit Craig Sugden.

The cast are all superb. Danson makes for a dazzling Dick, with a rich singing voice that works beautifully with Halliday’s in their love duet. He has the right amount of cheek, a great rapport with the audience, and manages to really make the part his own. ‘He is joined by Halliday in her professional debut, who gets to show off her vocals with her solo number, as well as her agile sword-fighting skills in a thrilling, climactic finale. 

Webster also makes her panto debut and, after taking a little time to warm up, engages the crowd and has cracking on-stage chemistry with Merton. Merton’s Dame is a total treat. He is, for those familiar with his telly persona, essentially just himself in a big frock, but there’s something about an almost nonchalant delivery that works really well. He doesn’t have to work hard to get the audience onside, his comic timing is so perfect, and he manages to command the whole auditorium with just the expression in his voice. It’s also really good fun seeing him go off script a little, and some of these moments are perhaps the most standout, especially as he teases his co-star Webster.

Elsewhere, Wendy Mae Brown is majestic as The Spirit of Bow Bells, as she gracefully glides on and off the stage, looking totally radiant in a bright silver, sparkly dress. Vivien Parry is suitable wicked as Queen Rat, and does a tremendous job at terrifying the audience, but always with strong humour, as she uses her long ratty tail like a whip and beats the stage with it. Charlie Smart is excellent as Eileen the Cat, with beautiful movement and physicality that really draws our attention to them whenever they appear, even without saying anything at all.

There are some great song choices: a re-written version of Flash Bang Wallop with excellent choreography from Jonathan Mawson who makes brilliant use of the ensemble, whose energy is infectious and gets us all clapping along. Parry does a comically sinister version of Billie Eilish’s Bad Guys, ‘I’m a Queen Rat, really really Mean Rat’, and there’s also a super fun version of the panto classic ‘12 Days of Christmas’ bit, reworked as an under-the-sea song and ending in a wonderful slapstick set malfunction. There were a few sound issues from where I was sat which did sadly mean some of the lyrics couldn’t be heard above the orchestra, although said Orchestra under the musical direction of Pierce Tee is a joy to listen to in its own right.

What really makes this pantomime so entertaining, along with all the aforementioned, is the pace and wit of Alan McHugh’s script, brought to life by Alan McHugh’s sharp and energetic direction, and Mawson’s choreo. There is some splendid innuendo, making jokes of all things from Sarah’s ‘giant flap’ (her cat-flap, of course) to the many jokes made out of the titular character’s name, as Queen Rat tells us ‘This Dick won’t hear I’m coming’. It’s a gag-a-minute, with spectacular song and dance numbers, and is all-in-all thoroughly entertaining. Perhaps some of the story beats feel a bit thin, but everything else makes up for this, making the whole thing an absolute joy.

4 Stars

Review by Joseph Dunitz

Join Dick Whittington as he seeks fame, fortune, and happiness journeying to become Lord Mayor. Can he outwit the evil rodent Queen Rat and free the city from her team of revolting rodents? Find out in the ultimate magical pantomime adventure!

Writer, actor, comedian, radio and television presenter Paul Merton will be stepping out from behind the iconic Have I Got News For You desk and donning the Panto Dame’s heels at Richmond Theatre this Christmas! He will be joined by comedian Suki Webster as Suki the Sweet Maker, musical theatre performer Wendy Mae Brown as Spirit of the Bells and West End star Vivien Parry as Queen Rat. Joining the cast will be Jack Danson as the titular Dick Whittington, Erin Sophie Halliday as Alice, and Charlie Smart as The Cat. Our fabulous ensemble features Ryan Lee, Tamika Williamson, Darcy Owen, Harley Charles, Daisy Southall and Callum O’Brien.

Book tickets for Dick Whittington at Richmond Theatre from Saturday 9th December to Sunday 7th January 2024.

View all shows booking now at Richmond Theatre.

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