Friday, 5 December 2014

Theatre review: Dick Whittington and his Cat (Lyric Hammersmith)

Writer Tom Wells and director Dan Herd return for a second year as the creatives behind the Lyric Hammersmith pantomime, and this time Wells brings along his regular collaborator Andy Rush to play the leading man in Dick Whittington and his Cat. Of course, this isn't the first time this year we've seen Andy Rush's Dick, but this version is the country boy - or, this being the Tom Wells take on the story, he's from Hull and comes complete with flat-cap - who travels to London to seek his fortune. With help from a trainee fairy called Bauble (Rebecca Craven) he finds his sidekick, a belligerent Cat (Delroy Atkinson) who's lost his meow. On arriving in London they quickly make an enemy of the evil mayor, Queen Rat (Tiffany Graves,) whose plans to give rats the vote will see her running the city forever. With a quick detour to the North Pole to fight a Yeti and get Cat's meow back, they hatch a plot to help love interest Sooz (Aretha Ayeh) beat Queen Rat in the upcoming election.

Last year's Jack and the Beanstalk was fun, but it did feel a bit as if Wells was still finding his feet as a panto writer. Dick Whittington and his Cat feels a lot more confident, and as a result hurtles along at a great pace, with the Lyric back on top form.

Of course, this is the panto with "Dick" as the lead character's name, and neither Wells' scripted gags nor the cast's ad-libs have felt any need to hold back on the innuendo. I have a feeling "I'm not a perky Dick today" might enter my friends' and my vocabulary, although Baps (Stewart Wright) handing out muffins with "I'd rather give than receive, just a personal preference" was another memorable one. And then of course there's Dick's call-and-response, which was just him slapping his thigh and shouting "Hammersmith!" to which a couple of hundred schoolchildren screamed excitedly for Dick.

With established musical theatre actors like Atkinson and Graves in the cast, the songs are all belted out enthusiastically, although we were all surprised not to get a rendition of "Let It Go," especially with the trip to the Arctic thrown in. Of course Wells has always been a bit retro, so instead Queen Rat gets a Debbie Harry fixation, and Cat a take on East 17's "Stay Another Day" in a hilarious scene featuring singing dustbins. I was also surprised, given that Wright's dame Baps comes complete with a beard, that we didn't get a Conchita Wurst gag. Topical references that did make it included the Scottish Independence referendum, Baked Alaska-gate and, of course, Hull's upcoming stint as city of culture 2017. (And for fans of Wells' other plays, the Hull Fish Trail that features in Jumpers for Goalposts gets a mention.)

In the latest round of "is there anything Andy Rush can't do?" (well... maybe rapping) he steps confidently into Stevie Webb's shoes, singing, juggling, doing cartwheels, all with a perpetual look of mild confusion on his face. There's big colourful sets and costumes from designers Oliver Townsend and Katie Lias, with a few extra gags snuck into the background (though I was disappointed to find the wi-fi password isn't actually "fart") and a couple of fun special effects - I think they've been taking some tips from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for the big showstopper. I never really do the rounds of all the pantos in London but once again I'm glad I picked the Lyric for the one I do visit.

Dick Whittington and his Cat by Tom Wells is booking until the 3rd of January at the Lyric Hammersmith.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including interval.

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