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Review: Dick Whittington (New Wimbledon Theatre)

Arlene Phillips stars as Fairy Bowbells in this year's panto in Wimbledon

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Christmas is well and truly upon us (oh yes it is) and with it comes the double duo offerings of Richmond and New Wimbledon's pantomimes. In the past, First Family Entertainment's pantos have been some of the best in all the land, drawing in glorious Z-list celebs year on year who seem to be very happy to make massive fools of themselves whilst wearing very large wigs.

The nature of Richmond and Wimbledon's pantos being run by the same people means that there's quite a bit of crossover. This must be the fourth year I've reviewed one or the other and I've seen the same backdrops, the same costumes, the same routines taking turns in each borough with no shame pretty much every year. It's also true that usually, one is better than the other. This year, it seems Richmond has the crown with it's Sleeping Beauty staring Maureen Lipman. Wimbledon, on the other hand, gets the booby prize.

It must be said that Dick Whittington is a tricky panto choice, although there is potential in the animals - the juicy Rat King baddy, and Dick's sparky cat. Here though, both four-legged friends fall a little flat, with Indi-Jay Cammish's feline Tommy only getting two chances to show off her impressive kung-fu skills and Matt Harrop's King Rat feeling a bit like a lame gerbil.

Eric Potts' script is pretty much non-existent, drowned as it is by continuous set pieces from Tim Vine (doing his usual non-stop joke book routine) as Idle Jack and Matthew Kelly (looking a little lost without his usual dame partner - and real-life son - Matthew Rixon) in the role of Sarah the Cook.

The plot heads inexplicably from London, onto a boat to China (literally no idea why) to a desert island to Morocco (although it looks a lot like India - in this world apparently they are interchangeable), presumably so that the backdrops from Treasure Island, Peter Pan and Aladdin can be used again rather than shelling out on making new ones.

Arlene Phillips is this year's guest star as Fairy Bowbells and she is very sweet, but also very wooden. Commercial pantos famously have very short rehearsal periods (presumably for cost reasons) and it really shows here.

There are some nice moments, but these are mostly in the audience participation sections when the kids get on stage and provide more laughs than the rest of the evening put together. But the real travesty is the sound. The amplification is horrendously loud and drowns out most of leads Grace Chapman and Sam Hallion's very cute songs. There are a few choice numbers, but the levels are so off, it's likely to make your ears bleed.

It's a pity. As we're regularly reminded, panto is often the first form of theatre many people encounter, and anyone turning up at this lacklustre, cost-cutting, prosaic Dick Whittington may be put off for life.

Dick Whittington runs at the New Wimbledon Theatre until 15 January.

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