Review: Dick Whittington (Theatre Royal, Stratford East)

The east London venue presents its regular festive show

The cast of Dick Whittington
The cast of Dick Whittington
© Ikin Yum

Theatre Royal Stratford East's Christmas show is one of London's staple seasonal offerings – providing top-tier panto goodness alongside a slice of political satire and slick production values, with tunes composed, for their 21st year in 2019, by Robert Hyman.

A lot of that is present and correct this time around in the venue's staging of Dick Whittington. Award-winning designer Lily Arnold creates some brilliantly elaborate pieces for the Stratford East stage, while John Haidar's direction is fleet and fun, moving from moment to moment with all the necessary glib merriment.

But it's David Watson's book where things come a cropper. Dick Whittington is rarely the most fluid of panto plot lines, and Watson has the pretty great idea of mashing up the usual story about a political crisis among London's oddball elite (the whole place is overrun with rats – in the sewers, in the streets, in the ice cream!) with the classic fairytale of the Piped Piper of Hamlyn . The malicious King Rat (a camp-tacularly fun Tom Giles) magics away London's children deep into the heart of Waltham Forest, where their dreams are used for his dastardly plans. It's up to young aspiring lad Dick to save London's kids.

While a novel concoction, it's a lot heavier on narrative than laughs, and it doesn't help that Giles Thomas' sound design also renders a lot of Watson and Hyman's lyrics unintelligible, with some slick wordplay lost. A shame, because it's more of a rarity these days to find original compositions in a panto – and while perhaps not the catchiest of tunes, they have the right heart. A whole skit with a dragon also feels oddly unimpressive and superfluous to the overall plot.

The cast is generally game for all manner of fun – Sèverine Howell-Meri plays a chipper and earnest Richard Whittington while Harry Jardine has bags of fun as Nathaniel the Dog, a large furry cat from Catford who has something of a canine affinity – he pines to go and live in Barking. Vedi Roy is a larger-than-life fairy godmother in training, who engages in some slightly unexciting but good-willed audience engagement. It's slim pickings compared to some of London's pantos across the city, but there's enough to keep the family happy in a chilly December. Rats, rats everywhere – adults may need a drop to drink.