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Dick Whittington

By • West End
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Dick Whittington ­at Sadler's Wells Theatre

Gillian Lynne's production of Dick Whittington is a show, if ever there was one, that relies on the classic formula of a beginning, a muddle and an end.

I say this chiefly because Stephen Clark's adaptation takes the familiar old panto tale, and mixes it up with some nonsense about the 18th century harlequin Joey Grimaldi (Nickolas Grace) and his arch rival Bologna (Peter Polycarpou). This sees Grimaldi returning to a now-decrepit Sadler's Wells Theatre to narrate Dick for one last time, only to find that his nemesis intends to throw a spanner in the works.

These extraneous details merely seem to obscure the original story, which, if you haven't heard, is about a bumpkin who gets rich quick by selling his cat to the rodent-plagued King of Barbary, and later becomes Lord Mayor.

Narrative structure apart, a number of other things grate with this staging. The patchy score leaves much to be desired, being put together piecemeal from at least 12 disparate sources. These include a Bricusse/Newley number, 'My First Love Song', (elegantly voiced by Jill Pert) and a ditty set to the strains of 'An English Country Garden'.

Then there's the casting. Grace, a talented enough actor, seems uncomfortable and sometimes bored in the role of Grimaldi, while Mr O'Neill's lacklustre vocals and unassuming manner make him seem like a bit of a limp Dick. Thankfully there's Ewan Wardrop's sexy, kick-boxing mouser on hand to steal the show with his sharp moves and tender dance duet with Jayne Regan's female moggy.

When it comes to the hoofing, standards are entertainingly high overall, even if the steps aren't especially avant-garde. Some smart soft-shoeing by the ensemble during the ballroom scene and nifty strutting by Ms Regan reminds us what we¹re dealing with here, the much-praised choreographer behind Cats and Phantom of the Opera.

Tim Goodchild's sets (framed by a dilapidated proscenium arch) form an expensive-looking, though not particularly inspired backdrop to the numerous scene changes. I did like the banners which drew a parallel between Dick's election campaign and London's present shambolic mayoral race, though.

In all, there¹s no denying the entertainment value in Ms Lynne's Dick Whittington, which crackles with life on many an occasion. Even if this new retelling leaves us wishing for a simpler, more coherent version of events.

Richard Forrest


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