After last year’s triumphant Cinderella, and with another production already announced for next year, panto is well and truly back at the Palladium where for years it was an essential date in the London theatrical calendar.
This year we have perennial favourite Dick Whittington and it’s everything you could want: a spectacular, joyously camp, no-expense-spared and often face-achingly funny show that does justice to the venue. It offers more than enough dazzle and special effects (including a double-decker bus that flies over the audience) to leave the kids wide-eyed, and plenty of hilarious nudge nudge innuendo to satisfy the adults, although may leave them facing some awkward questions from the little ones. Put Julian Clary in a show with a character called Dick and he just can’t help himself.
Director Michael Harrison has skillfully blended a top-class musical theatre cast, panto stalwarts and variety into a show where the laughs, music and spectacle come at a breathless and hugely satisfying rate while not losing any of the traditional bits of panto business such as audience participation.
Somewhere in there is the story of young Dick (Charlie Stemp) who plans to rid London of rats, become Lord Mayor and win the hand of the beautiful Alice Fitzwarren (Emma Williams). But our hero faces resistance from the evil Queen Rat (Elaine Paige serving up a generous helping of Christmas ham and gamely sending up pretty much her entire career).
But the story often takes second place behind a group of consummate performers doing their party pieces. The astonishing ventriloquism of Paul Zerdin; Gary Wilmott as Sarah Fitzwarren who performs one song that names every London Underground Station in a breathtaking feat of memory; and Nigel Havers who gets laughs for just being, well, Nigel Havers.
And then there’s Julian Clary; got up in a series of ever more bizarre and gravity-defying costumes and delivering one-liners that get nearer and nearer the knuckle but are done with such charm as to be irresistible.
Only the inclusion of Ashley Banjo and dance group Diversity feels shoehorned in, but that’s not to take away anything from their execution of some impressively athletic and dynamic choreography.
This is a joyous Christmas treat that leaves you with a warm glow.
Dick Whittington is at the London Palladium until 14 January
You can book tickets for Dick Whittington and other West End shows from Radio Times Box Office
Photography by Paul Coltas