From the minute Julian Clary descends from the rafters clad in a pink tutu, flanked by angels in crinolines and crooning Anita Ward’s ‘Ring my Bell’, the tone of the London Palladium’s Dick Whittington is set.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the rehearsal process for the Palladium’s Dick Whittington consisted of throwing ‘Dick’ jokes, sequins and production budget into a blender and feeding it to the cast. But the oddest collection of stars you’ll find on one stage (including Ashley Banjo, Elaine Paige, Nigel Havers and Paul Zerdin) make for a surprisingly delightful combination.
The production does exactly what it says on the tin (a cliche the writers would be proud of). This is your local pantomime given a West End budget – and it appears every penny makes its way onto the stage. The stagecraft is genuinely impressive, with everything from a flying double-decker bus to a life-size pirate ship bringing a sense of magic and wonder to the production. Being a pantomime, the ages of the audience range from toddler to pensioner, which presents a unique comedic conundrum: how to keep everyone entertained? The answer is apparently with a cartwheeling cat and some outrageous ‘Carry On’ pun-ditry. It seemed implausible to me that the children in the audience could be oblivious to the more tenuously pre-watershed punchlines, but the 6-year old in the adjacent row was contentedly squealing at the slapstick moments while everything else sailed neatly over his head.
The titular character is played by the fresh-faced and dependable Charlie Stemp, who’s winning smile and penchant for acrobatics make him the perfect lead. The cast, as a whole, are well-placed with Diversity, Nigel Havers and Gary Wilmot all playing directly to their strengths. However, any roses thrown to the stage truly belong to Julian Clary and Elaine Paige, whose scenes steal the show. This year in television, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis have battled it out in primetime while Dynasty’s delicious duels were brought to a millennial audience; Clarey and Paige’s sass, sauce and shade fit perfectly into this paradigm. They both delivered self-deprecating, meta-humour that endeared and entertained in equal measure. Fans of Paige can put aside any fears of their West End icon being debased, as her voice is as strong as ever and her humour plays deftly to her Soho stage-luvvie audience.
Dick Whittington isn’t going to set the world to rights and stalwartly refuses to even graze any subject deeper than a drying puddle. It is, however, an evening of pure fun that will be perfect for anyone hoping to keep the holiday spirit alive just a little longer.