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