Panto Review: Dick Whittington, Richmond Theatre

Panto Review: Dick Whittington, Richmond Theatre

By Jenny Booth

Main image: Suki Webster and Paul Merton (c) Craig Sugden

Four stars

Richmond Theatre has scored a coup by tempting Paul Merton, one of Britain’s funniest men, to put on the dame makeup again and star in Dick Whittington. Before this, the first and last time the comedian and improvisation artist performed in panto was as Widow Twankey in Wimbledon’s 2018 production of Aladdin. Then, he was rather a deadpan dame, sticking closer to the straight-faced, absurdist humour he is famous for on Have I Got News For You, rather than the over-the-top innuendo and slapstick you expect in panto. He later admitted that in 2018 he was very nervous on press night, and perhaps a shortage of confidence cramped his style. This time round he seems much closer to his free-flowing best, keeping the audience in fits of giggles while proceeding with benign patience and the occasional flash of craziness through the time-hallowed set pieces in the panto playbook.

Paul Merton (c) Craig Sugden

Playing opposite him is his real-life wife, Suki Webster, a fellow comedian, who is cast as his comedy sparring partner, Suki the Sweet Maker. They created a lovely feeling between them of mild and comfortable humour: in the ‘Who, What, I don’t know’ scene (a panto classic, where the joke is about misunderstandings) they were like an old married couple bickering gently over the navigation in the motorhome. Meanwhile, West End veterans Wendy Mae Brown as The Spirit of Bow Bells and Vivian Parry as Queen Rat injected some flash-bang-wallop into the show’s peculiar plot, while the delightful singing voice of Erin Sophie Halliday as have-a-go heroine Alice Fitzwarren, the sincerity and determination of Jack Danson as Dick, and the cat-like leaps of Charlie Smart as, er, Eileen the Cat, provided plenty of entertainment. The dance ensemble was lively, and the band conducted by Pierce Tee from the keyboards produced an impressive sound.

Erin Sophie Halliday, Ensemble, Jack Danson (c) Craig Sugden

Richmond seems to have spent the budget more on the casting than on the special effects, but the cast and producers make the best of it with cost-free gags that provided some of the biggest laughs on the night: for example, as Suki unplugged a cable, fused the lights, collided with the backdrop and brought it down on top of her, revealing a surprised-looking group of stage hands behind. ‘Show me in the light that suits me best!’ she begs at another point, and there is an immediate blackout. This is a warm and wholesome production of Dick Whittington that with endear itself to family audiences.

Dick Whittington runs at Richmond Theatre until 7 January. BOOK HERE