Review: Dick Whittington (London Palladium)

Julian Clary returns this year alongside Diversity, Paul Zerdin, Elaine Paige and more

Last year pantomime returned to the Palladium with Cinderella, now Dick gets his turn to ham things up this Christmas. He graces the enormous London stage in the second in the run of what has now become, without doubt, the slinkiest, sparkliest and sauciest of pantos in the capital.

Michael Harrison – producing and directing – stays with a similar formula to the one he used last year: a droll, smirking, camp Julian Clary as Spirit of the Bells, alongside a couple of earnest musical theatre stars (Charlie Stemp and Emma Williams being great in a Half a Sixpence revival), sturdy Dame (a very funny Gary Wilmot), comedy gold in a ridiculed Nigel Havers and variety acts thrown in (dance troupe Diversity with Ashley Banjo are a welcome addition to Paul Zerdin and his ventriloquist skills). Oh and let’s not forget Elaine Paige playing the evil Queen Rat.

It’s not quite as fun as last year’s offering, and that likely has something to do with the fact that Dick Whittington is quite a strange panto – here sporting an even more threadbare plot than usual. Dick arrives, states his intention to rid London of rats and thereby become mayor, he gets framed by Queen Rat, they all end up on a boat, and then go to Morocco, Dick's cat defeats Queen Rat and they all live happily ever after. Alan McHugh’s adaptation is essentially a way of stitching together the set pieces – occasionally it feels less like panto, more like a variety act.

Still, I can confirm that unless you’re an absolute prude you will leave the show having guffawed your face off. Clary is the crowning queen of the show as he struts his caustically funny stuff in Hugh Durrant’s increasingly outrageous costumes (at one point he comes on dressed as posh London department store Liberty). Zerdin warms the crowd up well, although his core audience interaction piece – where he makes two members of the public become his personal dummies – definitely feels like he's using plants. Diversity and their remarkable moves are magnificent – I 'd say they generally get too little stage time.

I lamented the lack of pop tunes, and although it is a scream watching Elaine Paige sing adapted versions of all her classics – think "I Know Dick So Well" from Chess and "I'd Rather Be Up a Drainpipe" for "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" – I wonder how likely it is the kids, or non-musical theatre crowd, will get any of the references. Clary does indeed have a lot of fun with the Dick jokes, but perhaps not quite as much as you might expect. This doesn't, however, stop the show from feeling like it’s more for the adults than it is for the kids.

There’s clearly been no expense spared on production values and from a behemoth drooling rat at the beginning, to a flying bus, to a vast ship, there are lots of magical stage moments to marvel at.

Despite the slight niggles, Dick Whittington is a huge amount of a fun, a big, brash, over-the-top Christmas extravaganza. And what more could you want from panto?

Dick Whittington runs at the London Palladium until 14 January.

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