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Review: DICK WHITTINGTON, starring Dame Edna Everage - New Wimbledon Theatre

DICK WHITTINGTON
New Wimbledon Theatre

All the traditional panto elements are here, and in full force; plenty of local references, up-to-date topical humour, big musical numbers, bad jokes (many of them delivered to excellent comedic effect by Kev Orkian as Idle Jack), lively and energetic dance routines (choreographed by Sarah Dean), a delightfully sparkling set (designed by Terry Parsons) and lots of audience participation. Add to this mix a traditional panto dame and a couple of TV personalities, and there really is nothing truly missing.

A breakdancing and very acrobatic dwarf (Ben Goffe) adds to the magic and there is even a Finding Nemo inspired 3D section which, although adding very little to the story, delights the younger members of the audience (and, it must be said, me – although mainly for the chance to wear the fabulously camp Dame Edna style 3D glasses which are provided).

Musically, there is a delightful mix of new and old, and a hilarious physical interpretation of The Twelve Days of Christmas, which soon degenerates into traditional panto carnage. There is also an excellent and highly unusual segue from the Village People’s In the Navy into On the Good Ship Lollipop, something I have certainly not seen (or heard) before.

Dame Edna Everage, as the Fairy Edna, Saviour of London, looks resplendent in a variety of outrageous, but invariably sparkling, costumes (courtesy of Stephen Adnitt) as she flies across the auditorium. The International gigastar treated the audience to a delectable feast of her uniquely acerbic humour, although much of this may have been lost on some of the younger crowd. Her role could easily have been lost in the character she performs, but she is permitted enough stage time as herself to delight her fans, joking that this isn’t a genre she is used to (and that she is the first person to bring the word ‘genre’ into a pantomime).

Indeed, as hard as it is to believe, this is a first for the global gigastar who, let’s face it, was born to be the ultimate panto dame and, despite her protestations, she is a natural in this field. She manages to jump from character to self with ease – mocking the plot (even borrowing a programme from a member of the audience to remind herself of it), cursing the rhymes her character must speak in and wondering out loud how she has ended up hanging from the ceiling of the New Wimbledon Theatre in a pantomime. A particularly amusing section involves her mocking those in the “cheap seats”, telling them to hang on tight as she doesn’t wish the theatre to be full of plummeting paupers.

But the magnificent Edna is not the only Dame in this panto. Panto veteran Eric Potts’ Sarah the Cook is a magnificent creation, rivalling Edna in both humour and costume. In addition to designing the set, Terry Parsons has also done a fabulous job on costume design, with Sarah out-frocking Dame Edna in a glorious cupcake number that would put Lady Gaga to shame.

The evil villain of the piece, King Rat is played excellently by Richard Calkin, whipping the audience up into a frenzy of boos and hisses every time he appears. His army of rats, threatening to first take over Alderman Fitzwarren’s (Anthony Houghton) shop, then the world, is eventually defeated by Tommy the Cat (performed to athletic perfection by Omari Bernard, leaving King Rat to fight Dick Whittington.

Sam Attwater, as Dick, carries a definite sparkle that sets him perfectly as the male lead, but his voice lets him down somewhat in some of the musical numbers. Edna puts it perfectly, in her own unique style, when she mentions he is “famed for his courage, perhaps less for his singing and acting abilities”. Nevertheless, he plays a fine lead, which balances perfectly with Anna Williamson’s delightful Alice Fitzwarren.

They are complemented by an excellent ensemble of Joanna Rennie, Lizzie Jay-Hughes, Lorna Bullivant, Simone Neumann, Gareth Andrews, Christopher Jeffers, Nicholas Munro-Clark and Carl Williams. Of these, and in no way deflecting attention from the others, Joanna Rennie and Gareth Andrews both stand out as excellent performers, and I look forward to seeing them in the feature roles they deserve.

The incredibly atmospheric lighting design, by Nick Ritchings, is a treat, highlighting every sparkle on (and often above) the stage and complementing each scene brilliantly. Sound design, by Orbital Sound Ltd, is also excellent, leaving no word or sound misheard throughout the piece.

As a pantomime, this production of Dick Whittington isn’t my favourite, but what it lacks in storyline and tightness of script, it more than makes up for in both design and casting. As she soars down from the rafters in a sparkly Union Jack dress that puts even Geri Halliwell’s to shame, tossing gladioli to the audience, Dame Edna Everage truly is the Saviour of London pantomime.

Dick Whittington plays at the New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon, London SW19 1QG until 15 January. Tickets £15.25-£44 from www.atgtickets.com


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