sat 23/09/2017

Dick Whittington, New Wimbledon Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Dick Whittington, New Wimbledon Theatre

Dick Whittington, New Wimbledon Theatre

Dame Edna in a panto cast, script and design well up to her gigastar standards

Gigastar Edna shines in panto, but she's not the only great Dame on show

You know what to expect from an audience with Dame Edna Everage. The London-loving Merry Widow of Moonie Ponds can be trusted to hurl her gladdies, patronise the paups in the cheap seats, dish out tough love to a lesser suburban housewife and lead a paean to her "niceness". But this is not a panto which simply grovels at the feet of her colonial highness. Another dame (lower case this time) who’s also the writing and directing genie of the show, a jaw-achingly funny stand-up and everybody else consummate in their proper panto places and against pretty sets all give the global gigastar a run for her money.

I felt as well worked-out at the end as if I’d sat through a very satisfying Wagner Ring cycle. Should I be surprised? My experience of great panto is limited, it's true: probably the last was in this very Wimbledon theatre, when as a cub scout I joined the gang backstage to get Jimmy Tarbuck’s autograph (this, of course, is a shaming rather than a nostalgic memory). But it was never as much fun as this. Oh, the prettiness of those painted flats, picture-book quaint for olde London and beglittered in more magical locations! Oh, the 3D underwater animation (indebted to Finding Nemo, but none the worse for that - and about as long as a 3D sequence should be)! Oh, the costumes! Dame Edna gets her own rouched or sequinned gowns courtesy of Stephen Adnitt, but Terry Parsons, who does the rest and the sets, is as much pure panto genius as director, author and performer Eric Potts, whose Sarah the Cook (just glimpsed on the right of Dame Edna below) Parsons graces with a stupendous wardrobe, from fondant fancy to a touch of Little Britain's Bubbles on a tropical island. Admittedly much of this seems to come from an earlier Potts-inspired Dick Whittington in Bristol, but who's complaining if you've not seen it before?

Dame Edna Everage and Sarah the Cook (Eric Potts, right) in Dick WhittingtonThe audience is already game for a traditional laugh before the curtain rises, and gets it right at the start from Richard Calkin's rhyming-coupleted King Rat and a happy introduction to a wealth of panto types long before Dame Edna flies in above the audience on Womble Airlines.

Usually you'd be waiting for the supposed star; here you split your sides or groan at the pointedly various gags of Kev Orkian's tireless, spontaneous-seeming Idle Jack, the routine of Ben Goffe's Captain Titchworth, a small personage with huge song-and-dance abilities, and the expected cheesiness of juve love and schmaltzy songs parcelled out between Sam Attwater's Dick Whittington and Anna Williamson's Alice Fitzwarren (the songs and well-choreographed dances are way too over-miked to hear the words, my only criticism. No mistaking, though, one outrageous segue from the Village People's "In the Navy" to "On the Good Ship Lollipop"). Leap to near the end of the show, and Dame Edna, corpsing the rest of the cast, salutes a new Lord Mayor "famed for his courage, perhaps less for his singing and acting abilities". But truth to tell, Attwater is as good at what he has to do as anyone.

Our Melbourne visitor is happier being a wrily scornful observer of these bizarre English rituals than playing by the rules as influential "Fairy Edna, Saviour of London". She prides herself on introducing the word "genre" into the occasion as she wanders around Highgate Hill prevaricating with her magical powers, and tells us "this is the thinking possum's panto". She mocks the wretched verse she has to speak in character, cooked up by a Romanian with a grant from the EU ("not for much longer" - hope it's the Dame rather than her creator who speaks there). She has a fun sequence with a frozen cast at the start of Act II, but there it's the other comics who truly steal the show.

Kev Orkian as Idle Jack in Dick WhittingtonOrkian (pictured left with Terry the belching turtle) rattles off a dazzling precis of the action so far before joining Potts and Goffe in a "12 Days of Christmas" - just about the only strictly seasonal reference - which involves endless hilarity with a pack of five toilet rolls hurled around the audience (and don't ask why my programme's soggy): pure Marx Brothers anarchy. Almost as good is the Act I scene in Sarah's kitchen: who'd have thought that a cookery session with a sausage that refuses to lie down under pastry could be such fun for all ages, and at all levels? And our Idle Jack encapsulates the measure of the show's fine balance between mockery and kindness in genuinely hilarious badinage with three kids from the audience (better not spoil the joke here, either).

As I stumbled exhausted from three hours of unqualified mirth, a small boy was pointing at Dame Edna's poster and remonstrating with his mother: "There's no way that's a man." I suggest he take the matter up with Dame Edna's manager, Mr Barry Humphries, who last appeared on the Wimbledon stage in 1960 as Mr "That's your funeral" Sowerberry in Oliver! (I have the LP, though I hasten to add that even though I subsequently saw Tarby In Wimbledon, I wasn't born then)Once again, the panto tradition which surrounds Dame Edna with warmth and not too much tough love has been going even longer. Amazing to see it so alive, well and professionally realised as it is here. You won't see a better.

Comments

This panto took a very long time to get into its stride. The first half was very patchy, and seemed to last far longer than it did. However, things did get going in the second half and there were some fun scenes. The first half dwelt on the plot, but there was far less attention paid to it in the second and everything was far better as a result. I think the review is rather unfair on Jack as I liked his performance. The only reason I chose to take my daughters to this particular panto was the opportunity to see Dame Edna. It's clear that's she's not as agile as she was, so the decision to suspend her numerous times from various contraptions seemed an odd one. She's still getting used to the script, and was funniest when freed from it, such as the time she invited someone on stage. If this is the case, why bother her with one?

I think you've got the wrong reviewer, Max: I was dazzled and charmed by Orkian's Jack. Maybe you meant to post to the Telegraph, which is out on a limb as regards his performance. And needless to say I don't agree with much of what you write. Did you perhaps miss the irony of Dame Edna's Greek-chorusing on the oddity of English panto?

I went with my wife and kids aged 18 15 and 11 just this last Tuesday and I thought it was excellent stuff. I have never seen Dame Edna live and even at 78 it was a privilige to hear all the ad libbing the humour it was brilliant. Jack was my favorite, the poor lady that was getting picked on in the corner as a theme throughout the panto tickled me. My kids didnt want to laugh they didnt think it was cool but they couldnt help themselves that says everything.....Stuff the plot it just has to mosy along. The 12 days of Christmas had us in stitches......thoroughly recommended dont listen to negative comments they dont know what they're talking about.....

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