Performance Run: Mon 19 Dec 2016 - Sun 29 Jan 2017

Performance Reviewed: Wed 21 Dec 2016 (Press Night)

Dick Whittington



It’s that time of year again, and, with a title like that, the puns and innuendo practically write themselves. And, rest assured there’s certainly no shortage of John Barrowman and pals milking every drop of double entendre from their Di….. no, that’s a step too far even by my standards.

It’s a fitting opening (careful) for this year’s all-singing, all-dancing Hippodrome panto extravaganza, as Dick Whittington is not only laugh-out-loud funny, tirelessly entertaining, and featuring a cross-dressing Phil Mitchell singing ‘Just One Cornetto’, but is also one of their naughtiest, cheekiest offerings yet. And it isn’t just from the obvious yet welcome riffs on the name of it’s titular (and no doubt titillating for some) hero, but almost the entirety of the cast get in on bringing a very welcome naughty undertone to this year’s proceedings.

That’s not to insinuate it is in any way inappropriate for younger audiences, though - they will be laughing, screaming, jumping and cheering along with everyone else, mostly courtesy of the one man comic whirlwind that is returning star Matt Slack. But, perhaps buoyed on by the warm reception of Julian Clary’s more adult-friendly mischief in last year’s Aladdin, this is definitely an offering which isn’t afraid to sail that bit closer closer to the wind… and then, naturally, have the Krankies crack a fart joke.

This canny balancing of humour for all ages extends to the fantastic array of set pieces, too - once again, QDOS and the Hippodrome have outdone themselves, from an extended ’12 Days of Christmas/being Shipwrecked’ number which proves itself a veritable explosion of madcap slapstick, through to Matt Slack and ‘Sarah the Cook’ Andrew Ryan’s wonderfully barmy wordplay which hinges around clever use of movie titles and DVD covers. And then there are the usual standards, once again glowingly executed, from musical numbers to rival the West End (not least of all courtesy of a stellar ensemble), a now-customary 3D special effects sequence which once again elicited audible gasps and screams from the audience, and mightily impressive animatronic and maquette work which sees a colossal rat and Jaws-inspired Great White bearing out over the stalls.

And any initial concerns at such a busy and diverse cast are quickly allayed. Whilst the slightly larger collection of names above the door this year round means Hippodrome favourite Slack (now in his fourth consecutive year at the theatre) doesn’t have quite as much stage time as in previous years, you still get plenty of his infectious and inimitable brand of hilarity and craziness, and it is still at times quite staggering how physically adept and versatile a comedian he is, from exchanging quick fire puns with Ryan as mentioned, unveiling a plethora of wonderful impressions, including a fine selection of Steve McFadden’s Eastenders co-stars, to just being plain silly, he is truly a gift to the panto stage, and one that Birmingham audiences continue to just lap up (he got arguably the biggest opening cheer of the night and has already been secured for next year's duties).

Speaking of Steve McFadden, Walford’s long-running hard man brings all his intensity and gruffness to the role of the villainous King Rat, proving to be the perfect panto baddie. It’s all a lot of shouting, screaming and barely-repressed anger, so not a million miles from Albert Square, really, but McFadden is clearly having a terrific time. West End star Jodie Prenger brings the light, fluff and sparkle as Fairy Bow Bells, along with some lovely vocals throughout, whilst Andrew Ryan once again proves that there’s nothing like a dame, especially one as animated, hilarious and even voluptuous as his Sarah the Cook.

Panto legends The Krankies are on fine form after recently celebrating 50 years in the business. Leave any presumptions or jaded misconceptions at the door; they come very close to stealing the show at regular intervals, not least of all when wee Jeanette Krankie performs a rendition of Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’ that has to be seen to be believed. And of course there’s Arrow and Torchwood star John Barrowman, who carries the show effortlessly on his still-handsome shoulders, bringing plenty of charm and boyish energy to his Dick (steady…) whilst knocking all his musical interludes and big ballad numbers out of the park, with a voice that reminds you what a powerful vocalist and experienced musical performer he actually is.

In all, as was perhaps to be expected by the hallmark and standard of the QDOS-Hippodrome collaborations of previous years, Dick Whittington is panto writ-large and done very, very right. It’s not so much a recommendation as it is a must-see; a big, lavish, laugh-out-loud treat for the whole family this festive period and New Year.

And to any fans of panto, or simply an evening of full-on, no-holds-barred entertainment, to miss it would be an absolute rat-astrophe! 

Rating - ★★★★★

DICK WHITTINGTON is running at the Birmingham Hippodrome from Monday 19 December 2016 to Sunday 29 January 2017.

CLICK HERE for more information on the show's run at the Hippodrome and to book your tickets!
Alternatively, call Ticket Sales directly on 0844 338 5000 now to book your tickets!

Press access for this performance of Dick Whittington were provided courtesy of the Birmingham Hippdrome directly. The author gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.