It’s Christmas; and with Christmas, comes pantomime season!
Oh no it doesn’t…OH YES IT DOES!
(I’m pretty sure I opened with that gag in my panto review last year!)
I am a true sucker for a pantomime, having been brought up on them when I was little. I love the slapstick comedy, the innuendo, the over-the-top costumes, and the classic fairytales. When the curtain goes up, the true festive season well and truly begins for me.
I was delighted to watch this year’s pantomime at Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre, whose stage has been graced this year with The London Palladium Production of Dick Whittington.
As always, this is a show with a star-studded cast that will appeal to all; and for many, this is the highlight of a big-time panto! Joe McElderry plays the titular role alongside Suzanne Shaw as sweetheart Alice Fitzwarren. Steve McFadden schemes as King Rat against his nemesis The Spirit of the Bells, played by Sheila Ferguson (yes, of Three Degrees fame!). And of course, it wouldn’t be a panto without the fool – this time it’s Idle Jack, brought to us by Bobby Davro himself.
These names are sure to draw in the crowds; but does the show itself deliver?
I won’t bore you with the story; we all know it (and if you don’t, all the more reason to go!). This is a classic panto. It is big, brash and brilliant, and whisks the audience through each scene in a whirlwind of comedy, glitter, and boo-hissing. There is love, there is laughter, and there is a plot that ticks all the boxes.
This is a stellar cast, and they really do shine throughout the entire performance, making a wonderful team. Joe is the dashing hero hitting all the right notes in his solos; Suzanne is bubbly, bright and charming as Alice, and Steve is wicked as the villain we all love to hate. Sheila is sassy in her Fairy Godmother-esque get-up, and though she doesn’t appear as much as you’d expect, she delights when she graces the stage.
However, the real stars of the show, for me, were Bobby Davro and Andrew Ryan, who played saucy Sarah the Cook.
What a pair!
Bobby is a panto veteran. He is an absolute natural and had us all in fits of laughter within seconds of entering the stage. His Jack is loveable, cheeky and supremely quick-witted. With him, it is joke after joke after brilliant impression, and I felt incredibly lucky to be watching him on stage! What an absolute joy to see a panto with really classic comedy talent; Bobby ensured this panto lived up to my expectations.
This is Andrew Ryan’s 32nd pantomime, which is not only a testament to his skills, but absolutely clear in his performance. He is pure perfection. He has all the comic timing, insatiability, and presence a panto dame should have, with a wardrobe full of surprises and tricks to boot. He knows exactly what he is doing, and his performance was one of the best things about the entire show.
One of the best things about pantomime is how it appeals to all ages. There are bright lights, slapstick comedy and silly jokes for the kids, and innuendo, social commentary and wry humour for the grown-ups. What’s more, the magic and spectacle are for everyone. Dick Whittington did it all flawlessly.
I did wonder once or twice if the innuendo was a little less than subtle – but not having kids myself, I found it completely hilarious, and am sure it went over their tiny heads. Double entendre is made for the panto stage, and if you can’t be cheeky at Christmas and get away with it, when can you!?
The jokes just kept flowing, one after the other, leaving me wiping away a tear or two at times. Bobby Davro had the audience in stitches and Andrew’s dame never missed a beat. I found myself wishing that the comedy segments – the skits between the ‘action’ –could last even longer; they were brilliant and clever and just hilarious. Which brings me to my next point…
A real highlight for me was the sheer number of unexpected moments throughout the show. Whether it was ad-libbing, on-stage accidents (the cast fell over once or twice!), and even unexpected audience participation, the surprises kept on coming. It is the sign of a truly brilliant production when the cast is clearly enjoying it as much as the audience, and this lot were having the time of their lives. It brought an extra something to the show that you honestly don’t get at every panto, and makes it clear that every show is unique.
The skills of the cast in being able to react, think on their feet and improvise when things go a little astray were impressive and turned into a real high point. I could see it again tomorrow (yes please, if you’re offering!) and it would be an entirely new and exciting experience!
Dick Whittington is a true spectacle too. When I was younger, the special effects were simple (yet effective). This year, we had fantastic mechanicals that had even the adults gasping. Don’t worry, no spoilers here; but I’ve not seen a set quite like it before! I was enchanted, at the ripe old age of 28, so goodness knows how the kids felt.
The costumes were absolutely stunning (and often comedy gold), and the music was excellent (with a few good family favourites as well as some original pieces). We all had a good old singalong – it’s not a panto without one of those.
The Ensemble well and truly deserve a shout-out too. They were absolutely on point the entire way through, charming their way from scene to scene, and supporting the rest of the cast with ease. There is some truly talented dancing in this show. Kitty Kat – played by Josh Baker – wowed the audience with his gravity-defying moves and somersaults.
I cannot emphasise enough how much fun I had. Dick Whittington is a show that will have you in stitches; full to the brim with classic charm, wit, magic, and mayhem, bursting at the seams with surprises. It fully deserved the standing ovation it received.
As Bobby Davro said at the end of the show, Christmas is magical because it brings people together; and what better place to be with friends and family than laughing yourself silly at a show designed for no other reason than to enchant and entertain?
This year’s Mayflower panto is even better than the last and is definitely one of the best I’ve had the pleasure of seeing. It is a truly classic production.
Dick Whittington himself may have gone to London in the hope to find a city paved with gold, but it is the stage at Southampton’s Mayflower where he should have been looking. This is a twenty-four-carat production; a cheeky, saucy star atop the city’s tree; an absolute Christmas cracker.
Dick Whittington is on at the Mayflower Theatre until 6 January – visit the Mayflower website to find out more and book your tickets.
Tickets gifted by Mayflower Theatre, but my opinions are all completely honest, unbiased and my own.
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Imagery courtesy of Mayflower Theatre.