BWW Review: DICK WHITTINGTON, Bristol Hippodrome
When on song, panto can be monumentally brilliant. An unpretentious form of theatre that can delight old and young alike. It's a shame then that this latest effort from panto behemoth Qdos is so tone deaf it makes your toes curl.
The trick to the panto double entendre is simple- it must sail blissfully over the heads of babes but elicit a knowing chuckle from the adults. Now, let's be honest a main character called Dick gives you plenty to play with (see how easy it is?). Yet Shane Richie's opening monologue plumbs the depths of this joke and ends with getting a lady from the audience to shout 'I love Dick' at him repeatedly. If not in bad taste, it's certainly tiresome.
The smut is unignorable in this production, a cleverly planned but cringey section with confectionary ends with a joke about how our principle girl, Alice is like a polo mint because she has...well you can guess the punch line. Set this against the backdrop of a 50-something soap star playing Dick trying to seduce a 20-something playing Alice and it's just creepy.
Chuck in the odd racially insensitive joke (what's the Chinese word for a full nappy anyone?), a spectacularly non-diverse cast and popping some white people in turbans to signify our journey to Morocco and you've got all the ingredients for the what is surely the worst effort from the normally reliable producer Qdos in years.
None of this however should detract from the individual efforts of the cast who do their best with the script they have been lumbered with. Jennie Dale is the pick of the bunch as villainous Queen Rat who gets the kids hissing and booing as they should. The ensemble and acrobats work hard to bring life and fun to the proceedings.
Nor should it detract from the staging which is the usual sumptuous fare we expect from Qdos. There are plenty of sparkles, fireworks and special effects to awe and amaze.
The best moments are found on safer ground with delightful reworkings of pop songs and slapstick routines. Shane Richie shows his panto pedigree when working with the kids who have come on stage from the audience. It gets the biggest laughs of the night.
For many the show will still be enjoyable, but for those that know the potential of panto and Qdos, this is a disappointing Dick (honestly, so easy).
Photo credit: Dave Betts Photography