Although it loses the plot slightly in the second act, director Steve Marmion’s second urban pantomime for Hammersmith is a great improvement on last year, with Steven Webb’s pasty-faced, likeable West Country lad from “Gloucesesesester” finding his feet and his destiny in a London badly hit by the recession.
His cool cat friend is Paul J Medford’s fur-lined rapper, and his chief opponent is Simon Kunz’s marvellously gestured King Rat, who aims to be “King of Crumbs” in Alice Fitzwarren’s dad’s bakery; the business is doing so badly they all set sail to sell cup cakes and croissants in Timbuctoo, but the shipwreck lands them in “Timbucthree.”
Alice (Rosalind James) is told by Dad (Kulvinder Ghir) “to get thee to a bunnery,” where Shaun Prendergast’s Sarah the Cook, with a voice like a gravel mixer and a bosom that squeaks like a klaxon, takes on Dick as her assistant; the false accusation and his dismissal means that he and Cat follow the party as stowaways.
The narrative is shuffled along by two inanimate bells – Bow and Bells – jutting from the proscenium either side of the stage and voiced by none other than Stephen Fry and Alan Davies, and they’re not shy of bad punning gags, either, dropping ding-dong clangers by suggesting Dick’s mission is “impawsible” and could turn out to be a “cat-astrophe.”
As last year, Marmion has pressed a group of lively young students into crowd-swelling and neatly choreographed support action. Tom Scutt has provided some pretty front cloths, and witty costumes, and the shipwreck is well staged as a tumbling ballet of barrels and serrated blue waves, leaving Sarah dressed as a salmon (more Vivienne Driftwood than Vivienne Westwood, she says), summarising her fishy Shakespearean ambitions in “A Midsummer Night’s Bream,” or “Anchovy and Cleopatra.” The songs are all fairly noisy with an amplified steely edge to them, and “What’s New Pussycat?” is not the ideal song sheet item. But there’s a spirit and a momentum to the proceedings (if not always the story line) that keeps the audience engaged, and just in case you’re missing it already, two shiver-inducing snowfalls in the auditorium.