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Dick Whittington

Dick Whittington

To get a maximum five stars the pantomime needs to be brilliant; this year’s pantomime at New Wimbledon Theatre is quite brilliant! All credit should be given right across the board, from Ian Talbot’s direction to Aaron Renfree’s choreography… from Alan McHugh’s script to Ian Westbrook’s design… and from The Twins FX’s visual effects to Michael Bradley’s five-piece band. But perhaps top honours should really go to the cast led by the amazing Shane Richie who, two days after press night, completely owned New Wimbledon Theatre’s half-full audience.

Supported by his long-term collaborator, Peter Piper, every hilarious twitch, look and glimpse from Richie appears to be completely natural as the ex-EastEnder plays the role he was born to take on. Whether he’s choosing the best-looking ladies in the audience (or not!) or he’s slapping Peter Piper’s bald head (ad-lib?) or realising Iain Stuart Robertson’s wonderfully northern dame (he’s really Scottish!) is really ‘a bloke’ the effortless way he leaves the audience in stitches just has to impress.

You can see why Peter Piper works so well with Richie in scenes such as the tongue-twister where Sarah (Robertson), Dick (Richie) and Captain Cockles (Piper) desperately try not to say the s-word. Incidentally, this is the only scene that repeats completely, in whole, from Tuesday night’s press night in Woking. Tonight’s raw comedy wins the battle – if such a battle even exists.

Another thing I’ve only just noticed is the absence of any children on any of this year’s stages – obviously as a result of the ongoing pandemic. Usually the ensemble features children as does the traditional act II song-sheet, but not this time. However, It doesn’t appear to matter as the spaces are being filled with deft skill.

Perhaps the true ensemble nature of Alan McHugh’s clever script is the secret of the show’s success. In fact the plot of Dick Whittington probably takes the longest and most diverse journey (literally) of all the pantomimes. Another example of Richie’s power over the audience comes as another slice of excellence from the writer. As in Woking on Tuesday, one scene features snippets of songs used to great effect, climaxing with Robertson screaming at Richie to ‘Let it Go!’ Both audience and the ex-landlord of the The Queen Vic know what’s coming. Richie pauses, looks at the audience, smiles, slowly walks centre-stage, throws out his arms and we hear those immortal lines from Idina Menzel. The scene is wonderful, as it was in Woking.

Richie’s West End colleague (Everybody’s Talking About Jamie), Hiba Elchikhe, makes a great love interest for Dick – boasting a great voice – without making the large age gap seeming weird. Shona White and Rachel Izen play good and evil as Spirit of the Bow Bells and Queen Rat respectively. She has the best-looking rats I’ve ever seen by the way. Finally the lithe and versatile Briana Craig makes her panto debut in style in the only non-speaking principal role of the show – Kitty Cat.

The icing on the cake was the song-choices used. From In the Navy / YMCA to I’m a Believer, they were all well chosen. That and the support from the young, eight-strong ensemble who never put a foot wrong all night.