Lyric Hammersmith, London ★★★✩✩
DICK WHITTINGTON is a gift to panto script writers — so many jokes to be had at the expense of the protagonist’s first name. Writer Cariad Lloyd — the Peep Show actress and Austentatious star — stuffs this 10th anniversary Lyric panto with them at a rate of about one a minute, but alas, this is not a vintage panto from a theatre that has turned out consistently sharp ones over the years; rather it feels more like flat Champagne.
Jean Chan’s set, full of clashing oranges and greens, oozes retro urban street style. Keziah Joseph’s slinky, body-popping Tom Cat is a lot of fun and good foil to Luke Latchman’s wet behind the ears Welshman Dick, whose bumbling charisma is a welcome variation on the stage school-style chiselled blandness that invariably typifies a panto’s leading man. And there’s some terrific low-key wit from the IT Crowd’s Margaret Cabourn-Smith as an accident prone Mayor Pigeon, sea captain and First Minister Mergeon.
She’s the only performer who has genuine comic talent — and therein lies the problem with Jude Christian’s production: it’s just not funny enough. Lloyd’s script is full of smart references to Scottish nationalism and Nigel Farage but without the giddy silliness you also need with panto, it feels better suited to a sketch show. Carl Mullaney is a serviceable dame but not a blissful or dangerous one, while Sarah-Louise Young as Queen Rat can’t banish memories of Vikki Stone’s two, far superior villains at this same venue.
There is lovely hip hop ensemble work and the general pro inclusivity vibe is cheering, but a panto’s heart lies in its essential elements — the set routines, the stock characters — and this one’s just isn’t in it.