Dick Whittington, Birmingham Hippodrome - review with pictures
Now, how does the saying go? Oh, that's right, As Camp as Christmas! And believe me, there is no better phrase to describe the biggest panto outside of the capital, Dick Whittington at the Birmingham Hippodrome!
Panto at this wonderful venue is always magical. I don't know if it is the sheer size and opulence of the theatre or the joyful, Yuletide atmosphere which oozes from every audience member, but one thing is for sure, Qdos Entertainment never fail to present an outstanding production, saving the very best scenery, lighting and special effects for Birmingham to clinch the deal.
Every festive season audiences flock to the city centre venue with high expectations of traditional panto fun and frolics and they certainly won't be disappointed in this year's spectacular in which the incomparable "entertainer with a capital E" John Barrowman makes a welcome return because in his own words, "the people of Birmingham wanted me back and are really warm and friendly. There is always a smile when you walk down the street." Well that's Midlanders for you.
But John is not the only big name in this production; it's a star-studded cast. The combination of JB and one of the country's longest standing, best loved duos, The Krankies is one which has worked splendidly for some years now and the chemistry, fun and indeed trust between the three performers is evident from the outset.
JB romps through the evening with a superb performance in the title role; the man is a singing, dancing, acting, acrobatic machine! Charisma is not something you learn; it is something you just have and the audience were in the palm of his hand from the off. His wicked sense of humour and fun ooze across the floodlights and there is no doubt he is fully committed to ensuring everyone, on stage and off, has the best possible time.
Fifty years in showbiz is a career to be applauded and The Krankies are just as hilarious as ever, appearing as Councillor and Jimmy, with the perfect blend of humour for kids and adults alike. As you would expect, there are ad libs galore between the couple and despite fast approaching the big 70, Janette is as fearless as ever whilst being tipped upside down, lifted high in the air and even appearing in the mouth of a giant shark!
Steve McFadden plays a suitably evil King Rat, amid a tirade of Eastenders' quips and Jodie Prenger is in fine voice and resplendent in silver and blue sequins as Fair Bow Bells.
Now every panto needs a wonderful dame and Andrew Ryan as Sarah the Cook is surely the best! Despite all the amazing props, wigs, the huge eyelashes and outrageous outfits, Andrew's persona, comic timing and ability to think on his feet are exceptional. Experience shows and this old gal has it in spades!
There is no argument; the whole cast is outstanding, but the biggest cheer of the evening went to darling of the Birmingham Hippodrome, comedian and musical theatre star, Matt Slack, as Idle Jack, who has enjoyed no less than four consecutive pantos at the venue and looks set to keep returning if audiences have anything to do with it.
When the tears are running down your face and your sides hurt from laughing, you know the guy has funny bones and that is the perfect description of Matt's performance on everyone!
The thought of executing the type of stunts, tricks and ridiculous jokes Matt performs would fill most with terror, but he just keeps them coming, lapping up the obvious enjoyment around him. A superb comedic performance which must surely put him in the top three panto comics in the country today!
I am resisting the temptation to go down the "spoilers" route, because you really need to see for yourselves, but the special effects, lighting and scenery in Dick Whittington are nothing less than incredible. In fact one stunt, just before the interval, actually brought a tear to my eye and gave me a Christmassy feeling I have not experienced since I was a child. It is just unmissable and worth the price of a ticket alone!
The choreography, executed by a team of excellent dancers, is complex, but well-drilled and the children of The Birmingham Stage School do a great job as rats and sailors, taking their chance to gain stage experience.
All the traditional panto nonsense is there; the ghosts, the water pistols (I got an absolute soaking courtesy of Mr Barrowman!) and the ahhhh factor of course, in this case provided by four young audience members brought on to stage for a sing along with Matt Slack. Priceless!
The blend of good old-fashioned British humour and musical theatre razzamatazz that makes panto come alive is completely unique and long may it continue.
So as the fairy dust settles and Christmas is literally just around the corner, Dick Whittington is the perfect family experience. Take the kids, granny and yourselves for an evening of outstanding entertainment.
Runs until January 29. Visit www.birminghamhippodrome.com for tickets.
By Alison Norton
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