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Review Round-up: Edna is Ultimate Panto Dame

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Australian housewife and comedy icon Dame Edna Everage (the on-stage and television alter-ego of comedian Barry Humphries) made her pantomime debut at the New Wimbledon Theatre last week (15 December, previews from 9 December 2011) playing the Saviour of London in the First Family Entertainment production of Dick Whittington.

Dame Edna, billed as a "global gigastar", appears alongside 2011 Dancing on Ice champion Sam Attwater as Dick Whittington and Nickelodeon presenter Anna Williamson as Alice as well as Anthony Houghton, Richard Calkin and Eric Potts.

Dame Edna follows in the footsteps of a host of stars to grace the New Wimbledon stage - last year's production of Peter Pan saw American chat show host Jerry Springer and Knight Rider veteran David Hasselhoff share the role of Captain Hook (a role Hasselhoff reprises at Bristol Hippodrome this Christmas).

The New Wimbledon 2009 production of Aladdin saw Hasselhoff's Bay Watch colleague Pamela Anderson as well as Paul O'Grady, Ruby Wax and Anita Dobson share the role of the Genie alongside Brian Blessed, whilst Happy Days star Henry Winkler appeared in theatre's 2006 Christmas show.

Dick Whittington continues at the New Wimbledon Theatre until 15 January 2012.

Elliot Davis

"What, you might ask, is a star of global proportions such as Dame Edna Everage doing in this year's pantomime … It's a question she ponders herself on stage … It's a strange thing to comment that a performer seems constrained by a script, but Dame Edna appears most comfortable when commenting on rather than taking part in the Dick Whittington story … The put-downs are as rude, as sharp and as delightful as ever. The delivery still fabulous … What works so well is that Dame Edna provides a wonderful frame for a near perfect pantomime … Ben Goffe as Captain Titchmarsh has the audience shouting for more. A particular highlight is the charming, cheeky and very winning Kev Orkian as Idle Jack whose rapport with writer and director Eric Potts (playing Sarah the Cook) is everything you could ask for … This pantomime has something for everyone. It is charming and has a wit and sophistication provided by a true 'giga-star', Dame Edna herself."

Julie Cross
Daily Mail

"Dame Edna Everage… international TV star, comedienne and actress, now in her late seventies, has enjoyed success for decades … It was a delight to see her arrive on stage … Dame Edna fans basically got what they wanted - Dame Edna playing her glorious self. One woman foolishly dashed onto the stage when invited and was ridiculed for ten minutes about her dress sense … While she may need to brush up on the dance routines, she was a little out of time, and a few of her lines, she managed to get a laugh out of moments where she wasn’t perfect … Eric Potts, who plays Sarah the Cook… is a worthy rival to Dame Edna … Sarah’s son Idle Jack, is played by the brilliant Kev Orkian … The audience’s appreciation of the efforts of Potts and Orkian was evident in their applause … Attwater plays a fine Dick Whittington … Williamson is a sweet heroine … Overall the panto was one of, if not the best, that I’ve seen in recent years at New Wimbledon Theatre… including a Nemo-style undersea 3D movie sequence… a fabulous touch."

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

"The New Wimbledon Theatre… Christmas shows… have struck me as downright common … So this year what a relief it was to hear that Dame Edna Everage… was to make her pantomime debut in Dick Whittington … It is a pleasure to see her. It has to be said, however, that Dame Edna is beginning to show signs of her age … But she still has great star-power … Elsewhere the show is gaudy in style and patchy in quality. Eric Potts seems to me to have taken on too much… and the lack of a slapstick kitchen scene is to be greatly regretted … Sam Attwater is a bland Dick Whittington and Kev Orkian a charmless Idle Jack, but the show is blessed with a terrific scene of physical comedy … Look out, too, for the delightful break-dancing dwarf Ben Goffe and a thrilling 3D underwater film sequence. This certainly isn’t a great panto, but it is nevertheless blessed with moments of anarchic hilarity."

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

"Dame Edna Everage seems ideally suited to a role in pantomime … She's a regal, often delightful presence in what is otherwise a rather messy version of Dick Whittington … It's got bite, but is still suitable for children … Yet her position is that of amused commentator, not zany participant. The performance isn't always totally assured, and the improvisation is not as acute as it would have been 20 years ago, but it combines subversiveness with class … The emphasis is on feelgood frolics, interspersed with dance numbers and the busy contributions of the misnamed Idle Jack (Kev Orkian). There's a stunning 3D sequence… in which fish seem to lunge across the stalls … A highlight is a ludicrous interpretation of 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' … But it's Dame Edna who is the draw … From the moment she utters her catchphrase 'Hello possums' there's a gratifying rapport with the audience. And while this may not be the cleverest or slickest panto in town, it's studded with funny moments."

Michael Billington

"Dame Edna Everage… offers a running commentary on the show rather than surrendering to the action … Maybe something of the old devilry has gone out of a Dame Edna … There's just a faint flicker of the former mischief … She adds a welcome touch of improvisatory mockery to the show … Kev Orkian is particularly engaging as an Idle Jack … And the best moment in the evening comes when he and the dame join forces with Ben Goffe as Captain Titchworth in a riotous rewrite of the 'Twelve Days of Christmas' … Sam Attwater as the titular hero, and Anna Williamson as Alice Fitzwarren, are slightly marginalised by the comics … I had a thoroughly good time, one made all the better by Dame Edna subverting the show by looking around her at one point and declaring with mild bewilderment that 'the stage is crowded with nonentities in period costume'. This is panto with, believe it or not, just a hint of Brechtian alienation. Not that I'd expect them to put that on the Wimbledon billboards."

Libby Purves
The Times

"Even the best gags in Eric Potts’s script… make just another good panto. What elevates this to the panto stratosphere is Fairy Edna Everage … I am a fan. But I feared the transference into panto of that knowing irony, that maternal contempt for Poms and possums … An instrument of gentle subversion adding grown-up pleasure yet getting small ones cheering too … Her stance is of puzzled, self-confident condescension which deplores the rhymes … Perfectly judged, Edna adds ironic but genuine warmth: she joins chorus lines, leads a troop of tiny Ednarettes and attempts a duet with Dick (Sam Attwater). She amuses us with passing asides … It’s the full Edna, yet never overshadows the romantic, child-friendly romp of Whittington. Her boundlessly generous egomania, benignly patronising sarcasm and regal absurdity find a new platform, and revel in it."


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