Dick Whittington has identity crisis

PUBLISHED: 15:25 14 January 2009 | UPDATED: 17:23 16 August 2010

ANYONE seeing any of the myriad professional pantomimes over Christmas will know that the secret of a successful show is encapsulated in one word: simplicity ,

ANYONE seeing any of the myriad professional pantomimes over Christmas will know that the secret of a successful show is encapsulated in one word: 'simplicity', writes Mark Campbell.

Alas, this concept is entirely missing from Mike Rand's absurdly complicated version of Dick Whittington, currently running at the Erith Playhouse.

Based loosely on the life of a 14th century politician, this straightforward morality tale in no way benefits from the addition of a septuagenarian James Bond, a female Long John Silver ("Long Joan Silver"), a band of girl pirates and a tribe of Red Indians.

Its overlong Act 2 feels like a bargain basement Peter Pan, while the cockney music hall numbers (Doing the Lambeth Walk etc) sit uneasily alongside such old pop 'classics' as Gimme Gimme Gimme and Material Girl.

The newest tune - You Can't Stop the Beat from Hairspray - is six years old (and was also used in last year's panto.)

The cast do their best with the material, but it really is an uphill struggle.

Excellent as a bewigged King Rat is John McLaren who improvises his way out of trouble and is a real asset to the show.

As Dick's cat, Jenny Appleby cuts a great figure in her skin-tight leotard, and throws some particularly funky shapes in the dance sequences.

Kelly Randall (Dick Whittington) and Nicola Milner (Alice) treat things entirely seriously, which is as it should be, but Matt Clowry wildly overplays the part of Idle Jack (the clue's in the name) to the point where he is more scary than silly.

Panto veteran Steve Padgham makes a promising debut as the dame, but needs to heighten the camp factor and be given more flamboyant costumes and wigs to be really good.

Director Richard Banks plays the bumbling Lord Mayor as the lovechild of Matt Lucas and Boris Johnson, while Eileen Warner is a pleasingly dominatrix-style pirate with Clive Madel as her diminutive lisping acolyte.

But the impressive UV sequence and ingenious set design can't shake off the feeling that this panto is suffering from a severe identity crisis and is in desperate need of an overhaul.

The next production at the Erith Playhouse is The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband by Debbie Isitt, from 16-21 February. Tickets: 01322 350345.

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