Blakeson - Writer

Cardiff-based film, theatre and gig reviews, cultural ramblings, whingeing, short films, etc.

Monday, January 05, 2015

"Dick Whittington"

It was my second consecutive year attending Jonathan Wilkes’ popular panto at the Regent Theatre in my home town of Stoke-on-Trent, after a few weeks of slightly artier Christmas fare in Cardiff; so I thought I’d offer my observations in the form of a checklist of the elements one might expect at such an entertainment.

  • Traditional story? Yes, “Dick Whittington” – although the hero travels to the town of “Stokey”, rather than London.
  • A cross-dressing panto dame? Yes, in the form of the excellent Christian Patterson, as Dick’s mother, in an array of extraordinary costumes.
  • A cross-dressing, thigh-slapping principal boy? Sadly, no, since the title character was played by Wilkes himself, although he’s very charismatic.
  • Famous names employed, to get bums on seats? Not really, although Wilkes, best known for his work with Robbie Williams, is something of a Potteries celebrity. And the cast was impressive, including rising West End star Louise Dearman, and Welsh actors Simon Nehan and Kai Owen.
  • Contemporary pop songs shoehorned in on the merest pretext? Yes – “Let It Go” and “Happy” made appearances; with vintage hits from Queen, The Village people and Kylie & Jason also featuring, presumably to appeal to mums and dads.
  • Seaside-postcard style “saucy” humour? Well, the central character was called “Dick”, which led to much family-unfriendly inappropriateness. There was also a touch of mild homophobia (“Gay Gordons”?).
  • A lack of narrative coherence in favour of plentiful comedy “business”? Yes – but the onstage banter between the cast seemed unforced, and went down well.
  • Numerous local references? Oh yes – maybe too many. Although the rewrite of “12 Days Of Christmas” was amusing, involving…
  • Audience participation? Yes - much singing, as well as a half-hearted attempt at a “he’s behind you!” interlude.
The video intro, narrated by Brian Blessed and featuring local notables including darts legend Phil “The Power” Taylor and Pete Conway (Williams' comedian father) was a novelty; although the advert from sponsors seemed an odd fit. And the ensemble of dancers, involving both local children and students from the Wilkes Academy of Performing Arts was highly accomplished.

All very enjoyable, and obviously a well-oiled machine, such that even technical blips such as malfunctioning microphones were seamlessly incorporated into the entertainment.

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