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Review: Dick Whittington at Birmingham Hippodrome

Dick Whittington is a panto which looks like a re-hash of what has gone before.

Dick Whittington at Birmingham Hippodrome
****
Simon Hadley Dick Whittington
Dick Whittington

For the first few moments of the latest version of Dick Whittington to hit the Birmingham Hippodrome stage, you might well have thought you were in some sort of a time slip which had taken you back to 2008 perhaps or even 2009.

Even the Krankies, a couple wonderful comics who work in the style of the old music hall acts of the 1950s dish up an act most of us have seen before.

Which is not to say they are't marvellous - they are - but some new material would be welcome. Yet Jimmy Krankie's slow saunter downstage dressed as a diminutive Ozzy Osbourne is a treat in itself where so much is made so skilfully from so little. Will the Krankies achieve National Treasure status? I would certainly vote for them.

This is a panto which looks like a re-hash of what has gone before. The sets might well deceive the eye with their colour and suggestion of atmosphere but they are not a patch on the sets brought in for Aladdin many years ago, when John Barrowman was here last (he's here again as Dick Whittington). In fact, most scenes this year look flat and just that wee bit old-fashioned - not what the second city might have hoped for from QDOS who have put this panto together.

Logic seems to fly out of the window these days too along with plot development. Yes, you have Dick Whittington's faithful moggy, but as handed to Taofique Folarin to flesh out into a pussycat in which we could all take delight, this good actor doesn't get a chance with a thin script and even thinner action. His costume is tabby-baggy and lacks any semblance of feline charm. Dress him a little more carefully, give him a better set of lines QDOS and you have good actor here who only needs a break.

Happily he gets scenes with John Barrowman who moves swiftly in his chosen path to and fro across the stage and the different scenes ranging from on ship board to the island of Morrocco.

Mr Barrowman cosies up to us, with that glittering smile and those flashing eyes but he does it so well you hardly notice that the storyline has slowed down or become ever so slightly unintereresting.

He is the star, (using that amazingly powerful voice we once heard singing "Night and Day" a decade ago in the Cole Porter movie "De-Lovely") and he knows how to shoot a sure-fire comedy line straight out into the laps of his adoring audience proving that in any case he has always had the capacity to light up the stage without any help from the lighting board. But the story is still treated as a trivial diversion while the cast get on with other business arranged to get a laugh, which often succeeds.

The court of the Sultan of Morrocco, (Sultan Vinegar - I ask you!) could have been developed into a hugely glamorous scene with exotic fire-eaters or silky Eastern lovelies to make the sailors think of other things than quadrants and wind speeds. But it was over quickly, there were no wonders, and it all left little memory behind.

And where was grief-stricken Barrowman who should have touched our hearts with pity when he was accused of theft by Alderman Warren - in fact, where exactly was Alderman Warren? He wasn't listed in the programme.

The company dancers are cheerful, good-looking and and well-dressed they looked splendid at the walk-down.

Elsewhere there is plenty of slapstick action from that splendid droll Matt Slack, (Idle Jack) who is superb with the children, while Steve McFadden (going by the eerie make-up used here to make him into King Rat) as the baddie, could easily pass for a senior Orc in Saruman's army.

QDOS have included a 3D effect which generally terrifies everybody and special machines which send their star actors out over the heads of the audience.

But I enjoyed Jodie Prenger (Fairy Bow Bells) and John Barrowman singing together beautifully as a vision in blue and green lighting - that also was panto.

Runs until January 29 2017

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