Dick Whittington – London Palladium ****

With last year’s Cinderella, Qdos Entertainment brought panto home to the West End with show stopping razzmatazz at the London Palladium. This year the creative team return to pack the same panto punch with Dick Whittington. Although it’s an iconic panto tale, Dick Whittington has struggled to set box offices alight each Christmas, with audiences sticking to the path well-trodden with Aladdin, Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, shows which have all been huge Disney blockbusters. This production throws caution to the wind, putting Dick Whittington back on the map, with an enchanting, breath taking, big budget production of epic scale and imagination.

Qdos promised to deliver a line-up of stars in its casting and it’s this eclectic mix of personalities from the showbiz world that gives the show its variety feel; an approach which feels right at home at the London Palladium! King of innuendo Julian Clary is the stand out star of the show with his withering put downs, mind in the gutter smutty chatter enough to make a playboy bunny blush and send the Mary Whitehouses among us in to a flat spin. Clary alone can pull this off, with his disarmingly lavish costumes and masterful comic timing; the filth (thankfully) goes over the kids’ heads while the adults howl with laughter. Clary has all the best gags of the show but when doubled up with Queen Rat Elaine Paige to perform her classic ‘I know Him So Well’ there is a sense that the innuendo runs a little too long. The show is lacking a big musical moment of show stopping sentiment, this could have been it, and it was Paige’s for the taking, but it becomes another innuendo filled howlathlon.

Comedy defines the lavish production throughout and it’s not all blue, with returning stars Paul Zerdin and Nigel Havers injecting warm, family friendly comedy to proceedings. Expert ventriloquist and winner of America’s Got Talent Winner, Zerdin, with puppet Sam keeps the fun flowing with laugh out lines and topical gags. Like last year Havers is the whipping boy of the cast and a running joke throughout with his shock outbursts that he’s managed to be cast again for a second year! Adding to the razor sharp line-up, Ashley Banjo and Diversity bring an age old tale in to 2017 with fist pumping, high octane choreography and mesmerizing showmanship.

The variety bill powers along delightfully but traditional pantomime elements take second place in the glossy production. The classic panto sketch Twelve Days of Christmas is done so well it feels entirely improvised but more could be made with traditional sketches and routines to put the story at the heart of the production.

The show’s biggest strength however is its breath-taking production values and glorious costumes and scenery. Twins FX have excelled in delivering a sumptuous production that moves as seamlessly and magically as the staircases of Hogwarts. A giant rat hovering ominously over the audience, a flying London double decker bus and a buoying ship give even the most seasoned theatre goer wow factor and awe. Ian Westbrook’s set puts old London at the heart of the story while lavish costumes add to the feeling of a big budget spectacle. The show is a delight which will make you glad that panto has once again found its home on the West End stage.

Review by Christopher Hall.

Playing at The London Palladium – tickets here from £29 www.theatreperform.entstix.com

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