Dick Whittington

Review: Dick Whittington at New Wimbledon Theatre

Review: Dick Whittington at New Wimbledon Theatre

Jenny Booth reviews Dick Whittington at New Wimbledon Theatre:  “sparkling family Christmas entertainment, that goes down a storm with the teenagers.”

Image Credit: Craig Sugden

If you see a smart white motorhome parked near New Wimbledon Theatre in the afternoon, don’t knock at the door – Shane Richie will be inside having a reviving nap between his starring performances in Dick Whittington.

He’ll need his beauty sleep, because this panto is very much the Shane Richie show. ATG has found a panto formula that works, based around a celeb, a singing heroine, a hairy dame, a risible villain and as many song and dance numbers as you can cram into an hour and 40 minutes. Richie is this year’s celeb, and he dominates. There seems to be no audience that Richie can’t charm, whether as Macbeth or Alfie Moon or as his panto self – which is a revved up version of his most famous roles. Some of his early jokes were a bit too edgy on opening night, but he soon got the measure of Wimbledon’s panto crowd. He plays a street-smart Dick with a bit of swagger and an ironic eye-roll – you can hear the EastEnders theme tune.

He gets sterling support from Hiba Elchikhe, who has a powerful voice and brings a bubbly stage presence to the role of heroine Alice Fitzwarren. Richie’s TV pal Peter Piper makes a jovial Captain Cockles, while Iain Stuart Robertson plays a low key dame without the usual audience flirting. Rachel Izen dials down the menace as the villainous Queen Rat, Shona White is an appropriately saccharine good fairy as the Spirit of Bow Bells, and Briana Craig stole every scene she was in as an exceptionally graceful Kitty Cat with a wide, wide smile.

Covid weighs on the production a little, stripping the cast of the usual young, local dancers, but the energetic professional ensemble make up for it by being very acrobatic. I was glad that the tiresome 3D glasses effects remain out of favour, presumably because of Covid sanitation. The traditional bit of stage wizardry at the end of Act One is a wow, when the hero takes to the air in a flying vehicle. The wardrobe department under Abigail Morgan was on great form, particularly with the octopus costumes in the dance number under the sea. They don’t bother with the plot these days and I had to look up afterwards why there was a scene with a Middle Eastern backdrop – but sure enough, it’s there in the story: the cat gets sold to the Sultan of Morocco, making Dick’s fortune. Not that you’d know by watching the panto; but who cares, when it all ends happily ever after with a bit of audience singing and dancing? Not quite up to the same high entertainment standards of previous Wimbledon Whittingtons, such as the 2017 Matthew Kelly/Tim Vine production or Dame Edna Everage in 2011, but still sparkling family Christmas entertainment, that goes down a storm with the teenagers.

Read our interview with Shane Richie here.