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Dick Whittington – Oxford Playhouse

Writer and Director: Peter Duncan

Choreographer: Grace Harrington

Musical Director: Darren Reeves

Reviewer: David Aldridge

[Rating:4]

This reviewer remarked (for The Public Reviews) that Peter Duncan’s script for last year’s Mother Goose – also at the Playhouse – was almost relentlessly topical, and it is worth noting that this year’s offering is significantly less so: remove the usual assortment of amusingly decontextualised contemporary pop hits and this pantomime could have been performed in any of the last four decades. In fact, the script seems overall to be a marked departure from last year’s effort, with far less in the way of groan-inducing puns (or successful ones, in any case). The innuendo switch, in addition, seems turned down a couple of notches in this production, and we have to wait for what seems an interminable amount of time for the inevitable plays on the protagonist’s first name. A slight lack of energy in the script flattens the first act of this pantomime somewhat, but this is ultimately the only negative aspect of the show. Indeed, the second act utterly explodes into outrageous life.

This panto really is well worth the money. Here goes…

One does not at any point know, or care, what is happening from one moment to the next. Leon Craig (Dame Doris Donut) delivers every line, even the lamest, to the uproarious amusement of adults and children alike. My four year old son laughed at the Dame’s every utterance and slightest movement, particularly her merciless treatment of a hapless school teacher pulled up at several points from the front row. Ashley Emerson’s beefcake Dick is inoffensive and he is in good voice. Laurie Scarth’s Alice is equally appealing and the two leads evidently enjoy every moment. Tori Moone’s Tigerbilly genuinely thrills with unexpected aerial antics. The energetic and talented Reuben Kaye (King Rat) hits the scary sweet spot exactly, although the deliberate casting of an Australian as a dud cockney perhaps pushes a joke too far? Richard Kidd entirely steals the second act as a Baron Cohen-styled “Dictator”, and his practically surreal character choices entirely mitigate (and to some extent explain) his rather bland turn as Alderman Fitzwarren in the first act.

My four year old son remarked that the set was great, and, “the city looks lovely.” I certainly enjoyed the bold and colourful aesthetic. High points of the production, for both of us, are two energetic set pieces, comprising a chaotic Twelve Days of Christmas in the first act, and a messy cooking scene in the second. Leon Craig’s Dame injects both scenes with just the right amount of anarchic ad-libbing and teasing of other cast members. Keep an eye on the baby octopus that goes into the cooking pot – its fate is somewhat unexpected.

Runs until 13th January

Picture: Madeleine Woolgar

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