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Panto review: Surreal and silly - but Dick Whittington is a delight

PUBLISHED: 15:00 03 December 2019

Severine Howell-Meri plays Dick Whittington. Picture: IkinYum Photography

Severine Howell-Meri plays Dick Whittington. Picture: IkinYum Photography

IkinYum Photography

In the first of our east London panto reviews, we sent reporter Andrew Brookes to Theatre Royal Stratford East to experience a traditional Christmas show for the first time.

Tom Giles plays villian King Rat. Picture: IkinYum PhotographyTom Giles plays villian King Rat. Picture: IkinYum Photography

Bored of life on his Romford turnip patch, Dick Whittington hits the road and follows his dreams to the greener pastures of London.

Much like the titular character setting off on his adventure, I wandered into Theatre Royal Stratford East to see my first pantomime wide-eyed, brimming with anticipation but not entirely sure what to expect.

Having grown up in Australia, I was only vaguely familiar with the concept of a panto and had never even heard the name Dick Whittington.

This is a wacky world where folklore gets the modern treatment and the fourth wall doesn't exist.

Dick Whittington (Severine Howell-Meri) and Nathaniel (Harry Jardine). Picture: IkinYum PhotographyDick Whittington (Severine Howell-Meri) and Nathaniel (Harry Jardine). Picture: IkinYum Photography

Indeed, it seems raucous audience participation - whether shouting helpful advice like 'he's behind you!' to our hero, booing dastardly villain King Rat whenever he appears, or being dragged up on stage to demonstrate ice-cream sculpting - is key to cracking panto.

Severine Howell-Meri plays Dick (though he prefers Richard), whose attempts to learn the unique dialect of young Londoners brings plenty of laughs early on.

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He's accompanied for much of his journey by Harry Jardine's Nathaniel, a cat who identifies as a dog and boasts impressive rap skills.

Lady Lush (Vedi Roy) and her daughter Alice (Francesca Zoutewelle), Picture: IkinYum PhotographyLady Lush (Vedi Roy) and her daughter Alice (Francesca Zoutewelle), Picture: IkinYum Photography

They eventually reach rat-infested London and the ice cream parlour of Lady Lush - played by a scene-stealing Vedi Roy resplendent in some outrageous costumes - where the young Alice (Francesca Zoutewelle) catches Dick's eye.

Gleeful silliness ensues as Dick attempts to foil the evil plot of King Rat (Tom Giles).

His scheme is inadvertently enabled by the mayor of London - a bumbling, floppy haired buffoon, played by Lizzie Winkler, who is all too eager to sign an ill-advised contract in an attempt to be seen as the people's hero (sound familiar?).

Directed by John Haidar and written by David Watson and Robert Hyman, the show brilliantly balances entertaining the enthusiastic children with slapstick whilst amusing the older audience members with popular culture references and modern day satire - though with less innuendo and double entendres than one might expect.

Lizzie Winkler as Mayor and Bree Smith, who plays Grandma. Picture: IkinYum PhotographyLizzie Winkler as Mayor and Bree Smith, who plays Grandma. Picture: IkinYum Photography

It's surreal and rather silly, frisky and quite fun, and I walked out with an irrepressible grin on my face - which, unless I've got this panto lark all wrong, is precisely the point.

Dick Whittington runs at Theatre Royal Stratford East until January 11.

Click here for more information and to book tickets.

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