I have a sneaking suspicion that Wilton’s Music Hall may just be the coolest venue in London at the moment. Recently refurbished but still full of character and vintage charm, this Music Hall is a little gem in the East End and is perfectly festive around this time of year. Dick Whittington is the first Pantomime to be staged in this Hall and together the show and the surroundings create a Very London Panto.
London is infested with vermin (no, not estate agents) and only our hero Dick Whittington and his cat can ride the city of these dreadful creatures… with a little help from his friends of course. Roy Hudd’ script creates a fantastically local style of show, full of jokes about Wapping, Tower Hamlets and Boris Johnson which strikes a chord with a London audience. Hell, he even gives the characters from the far-off and exotic and of Monkey Island Liverpudlian accents (well, it is beyond zone 6). While many Pantos can drift too far into double-entendre land, Dick Whittington stays firmly in the Christmas cracker style jokes that people love to laugh and groan at equally. But don’t worry, there are plenty of ‘He’s behind you’ shout outs and audience interactions to bring you back to childhood.
A Panto’s success can often rest on the fairly manly shoulders of the Dame, even more so in this case as writer Roy Hudd also tackles the role of Sarah the Cook. He is so fun to watch; steering away from flashy make up and instead channels those East End broads that we’ve come to love. His delivery style is natural, cheeky and so reminiscent of my own Grandmother from Dagenham I had to do a double take.
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There are some fantastic performances in Dick Whittington, including Simon Burbage’s dim-witted Idle Jack, Ian Parkin’s randy Maharajah and Steven Hardcastle’s acrobatic Tommy the Cat. As the sneaky and villainous Ronaldo Ratface, Gareth Davies blends together elements of Russell Brand and Christopher Lee to create a bad guy worth booing and boy do the audience have fun doing so!
At the end of the performance a name check is giver to the designer Mark Minton and it’s easy to understand why. Minton uses the Hall’s existing features and adds some panto sparkle without covering up any of the original charm, which can’t be easy in a Grade II listed building.
Dick Whittington is a good old fashioned Pantomime with bags of gags, dances and sparkly frocks for a man. I wouldn’t necessarily say it is the most family orientated Panto out there as there are lulls in the action, but for anyone looking for a traditional Christmas show you would be hard pushed to find one with more heart than the one at Wilton’s Music Hall.
Reviewed by Roz Carter