There are very few people these days that could rightly be called a showbiz legend, but there is no doubt that Barbara Windsor is one of them. From the moment she, as Fairy Babs, flies onto the stage you are knocked back by her energy, warmth and plain star quality. For this is the all-singing all-dancing Windsor - born to entertain - and probably unfamiliar to younger audiences, who have grown up only with her Peggy Mitchell persona on EastEnders.
But here, firmly back on stage where she belongs, Windsor is allowed to show what a hugely talented and versatile comedienne and entertainer she is, as well as displaying one of the best sets of legs in the business, not to mention other considerable assets for which she will be forever known.
Dick Whittington is playing at the historic Bristol Hippodrome, which celebrated its 98th birthday just the other day, and is a truly sumptuous affair. No expense has been spared on the glittering costumes, lavish sets, full orchestra and a top-notch cast of panto professionals. Eric Potts (best known as Diggory Compton in Coronation Street) has written a classic traditional pantomime, with plenty of sauce to entertain the grown-ups, but firmly aimed at a family audience, and also delivers a frightening larger-than-life performance as dame “Sarah the Cook”.
There are some nice touches in gentle homage to the two iconic aspects of Ms Windsor’s career, and she gamely parodies herself in a panto version of Peggy Mitchell, complete with a smouldering Queen Vic and mini-Mitchell brothers, and a lovely recreation of that famous exercise scene in Carry On Camping, only it is the Dame who, rather horrifically, loses her bra this time round!
Comedian Andy Ford is a delight as Idle Jack, and quickly builds a winning relationship with the little-ones, and Granville Saxton’s evil King Rat is deliciously over-the-top, receiving well-earned jeers from the crowd. Owain Williams, as Dick, and Carly Day, as Alice Fitzwarren, make an attractive pairing, and the entire cast sing and dance (enthusiastically choreographed by Andrew Wright) through a score that contains everything from West End hits to Lady Gaga (Windsor’s impression of said Lady is a sight to behold!).
There is also a stunning 3D animated sequence which literally holds the little-ones spell bound, and adds considerably to the big budget West End feel of this production.
To see one of this country’s greatest, and best loved stars, back on stage doing what she does best is worth a trip down the M4 alone, but the show itself is also much more than that, and is one of the finest pantomimes, in true classic panto tradition, that I have seen for many years.