I was a bit stuck for panto options in the Boxing Day – New Year’s break this year. Originally I was supposed to be in Inverness, and was going to see the Eden Theater’s production, but the travel chaos threw my plans topsy-turvy and suddenly I was in London with nary a ticket bought! The problem wasn’t so much not being able to get tickets as not being able to decide where. I’d already been to see my perennial favorite, the Hackney Empire (with Jack and the Beanstalk), but no other show had really caught any buzz other than, “Look away!” However, inspiration came from an article in the Guardian, which suggested that the OTHER good panto to see in London was at the Lyric Hammersmith. Well, okay, I thought (noting that next year I need to make a trip to York), let’s see what they’ve got going on; as usual they had good prices (unlike Wimbledon or the non-panto Hansel and Gretel the Southbank Center did), and thus for 15 pounds a head I found myself in the second balcony for some post-Christmas panto fun.
The Lyric’s promotional material for Dick Whittington seemed to emphasize its “street” aspects; the poster was for a cat in a baseball cap wearing a gold necklace. I was actually expecting the whole production to have a lot more elements from this culture (very vibrant in London and source of a lot of the most exciting dance productions), but they really weren’t there. It was a shame, too; the music and dancing were some of the weakest elements of this production.
However, the casting was very good. The Cat, Paul J Medford, was full of personality and a big ham; he was definitely the star of the show despite having to do it all in a giant furry suit. Steven Webb was shockingly good in a role that should have had me sick with its sugariness; how could he be so positive about everything and not just come off like … he was playing down to us? In fact, he was a treat; a good singing voice, a nearly irony-free delivery, and somehow he managed to “live the role” in a way that sold to a hardened old nut like myself. Good on you, Steve. Alice (Rosalind James), however, put both of the men to shame with her stupendous pipes; she was fine as the spunky pie-maker’s daughter, but she blew the roof off when she sang.
Unfortunately, Shaun Prendergast (as Sarah the Cook) just wasn’t the over the top scene stealer I was hoping for. He seemed a very friendly panto dame, but I really want someone who’s a demon wit as well as having a powerful stage presence. He also didn’t get as many fun dresses as I was hoping for. Still, I’ve been spoiled by Clive Rowe; Prendergast did show that he’d worked to adapt the material as he went along, but he just couldn’t match Rowe’s verbal fireworks.
While this show was definitely competent, I felt it was lacking some snap and pizazz … maybe just a bit more fun between the characters onstage would have helped. That said, it certainly got in plenty of bad puns (especially with the bells, unusual characters to say the least), and I do think it was pitched pretty well at its audience. Still, better miking so the lyrics of the songs could be heard would have helped – I couldn’t tell what they were going on about once the music started – and, well, I don’t know, I guess it is pretty late in the run and a two show day but I would have enjoyed a little more life in the actors. So it was certainly a serviceable panto, but not one I’m likely to remember longer than the end of this Christmas season.
(This review is for a matinee performance that took place on Wednesday, December 29th, 2010. It continues through January 8th, 2011.)