Dick Whittington panto in Birmingham
Completely living up to its reputation as the home of British panto, the Birmingham Hippodrome has once again brought forth one of the most dazzling displays of camp Carry On-esque chaos to the stage, delighting family audiences with bright sets, elaborate costumes, catchy song and dance routines, puppets, put-downs and enough innuendo-laden dialogue to keep the adults happy too.
Making her debut with another ‘queen of mean’ character to add to her career belt is Joan Collins who takes the starring role as the appropriately named Queen Rat.
Accompanying her as King Rat is the veteran British star of stage and screen Nigel Havers whose performance, though oozing with confidence and malice, is very self-indulgent and self-absorbed not very much unlike Havers himself, thus making his appearances a little bit tired and predictable.
The award for stealing the show has to go to both Julian Clary, who plays the Spirit of the Belles, and Keith Harris (along with his ventriloquist puppets Orville and Cuddles), who delight as a team of fumbling Rat Catchers. Harris and Clary’s competing quick wit, sarcasm and sometimes risque puns keep the fairytale factor alive, even when the script seems to become repetitive.
Complmenting the duo is Walsall-born Jeffrey Holland who dons a wig and some slap to fill the high-heels of Dame Felicity Fitzwarren, a larger-than-life dominating but fun presence who brings a helping of traditional slapstick to the whole affair. Even if at times she does resemble the possible love child of Window Twankey and Fred Gwynne’s Herman from The Munsters.
Surely, completely under-billed have to be the non-celebrity cast members including the lead that is Liam Tamne, whose likeable Dick Whittington is a constant reminder that there is some non-wooden acting talent in the show. Further proven by the endearing Kathryn Rooney who plays Whittington’s love interest Alice along with the visually stunning and extremely confident Jeremy Fontanet, playing the equally appealing (no doubt for the benefit of Joan Collins character’s constant wandering eye) Sultan of Morocco. And of course, not forgetting Churchill, the dog from the TV commercials of the same name who… well, maybe it’s better if we do forget just this once.