Having been involved in several amateur pantomimes in recent years, it was a pleasant change to watch the professionals in action at one of the biggest venues in the country. So how do they fare against those smaller productions who must make every penny count? Okay, you cannot criticise for having money to burn in comparison, but the top pantos still need to deliver the goods and I’m happy to say this one did in every department.

Dick Whittington — Birmingham Hippodrome — 20 December 2022

Exceptional sound and lighting, impressive sets and costumes full of spectacular colour. However, there still is a major factor with these star-studded extravaganzas as they are also vehicles for those stars, and quite understandable, as many in the audience have come to see them. Therefore, plots are thin with a massive ratio of time spent on stand up and sketches, but that doesn’t make it less of a pantomime. You see, if it is well written (and Dick Whittington was, superbly by headliner, Matt Slack along with Alan Mc Hugh) the audience will go home happy. In fact, pantos are often kids’ first experience of theatre and even if parents aren’t fans to begin with, the whole family enjoy it so much as a unit they do return the following year. And that can lead to a wider love of theatre.

Finally, after many years of being the comic foil in Birmingham, Matt Slack was our Dick, the principal role. And he did not disappoint. Wave after wave of one liners and occasional impressions had me and the rest of the auditorium in stitches. I wish I had written some of them down.

Dick Whittington — Birmingham Hippodrome — 20 December 2022

But it wasn’t only Matt Slack delivering the laughs. Andrew Ryan was sublime as Felicity Fitzwarren. With glorious over-the-top costumes and double-entendres, Slack had great support. Now, pantomime dames are a touchy area for me as I loathe the outdated hairy chested, occasional gravelled voice efforts that are thankfully all but consigned to pantomime hell. What Ryan delivered was female impersonator/drag style that Ru Paul would be proud of. This is a transgender world now and subjects need respectful treatment, which was the result here. But it wasn’t just the nature of the character, the performance was also top-drawer.

Laughter with a local flavour also came from Doreen Tipton in the guise of Doreen the Cat. Now, I can’t honestly say I’ve ever been a fan but with the material given, Tipton was a wonderful addition. And she can hold a good tune as well. Supporting well was ex Hearsay singer, Suzanne Shaw and Dr Ranj from daytime TV. Both were excellent in song and stage, adding an extra celebrity feel to the show.

Dick Whittington — Birmingham Hippodrome — 20 December 2022

Topping the bill, though was former Wet Wet Wet lead, Marti Pellow who had the audience unable to decide whether to cheer or boo at times. Still popular, he proved that love really is all around.

What! Come on, it’s panto. You have to expect the odd bad pun.

Finally, with a cameo interlude by the amazing duo of Spark Fire Dance, this was a pantomime where everyone will have gone home in a happy, feelgood mood.

Dick Whittington was directed by Michael Harrison with choreography from Alan Harding and musical direction in the hands of Robert Willis and Gary Hind.

Matt Slack is already booked to return to Birmingham Hippodrome Christmas 2023 in Jack and the Beanstalk and on this showing, I’d recommend getting your tickets now.

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Cheers.

Antony N Britt

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