December 21, 2010 5:06 pm

Dick Whittington, Lyric Hammersmith, London

This theatre has got its Christmas mojo back

Lyric supremo Sean Holmes, director Steve Marmion and writers Joel Horwood and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm have learnt a lot from last year’s staggering misfire. The Lyric’s first proper pantomime in an age, Jack And The Beanstalk, was too keen to modernise the panto form, and its multi-authored script was a shapeless affair. For Dick Whittington the writing team is down to two, the story is less meandering, and there is a far greater sense that everyone knows what they are doing.

In some areas this is surprising. It is, for example, Shaun Prendergast’s first outing as a dame. However, his natural energy, irrepressibility and love of atrocious jokes makes his Sarah the Cook a storming success. (He relishes lecturing us about having waited two hours for the obvious lyrical gag about a character named Scaramouche.) I have two slight reservations: he needs a little more padding, and I wonder whether his full-throated voice will last the run.

The musical side of things is almost entirely contemporary: the opening number, “Don’t Stop Believin’”, may date from 1981, but the song’s revival in TV’s Glee makes it topical, and as for the rest, I confess I (aged 47) only recognised a couple. The script is similarly knowing and self-parodically up-to-the-minute; Steven Webb’s appealing, wide-eyed Dick makes remarks such as “Soz” and “Oh em gee!” Some other lines are too obviously for the grown-ups; a couple of Shakespeare references are thrown in for recondite fun, including Kulvinder Ghir as Mr Fitzwarren ordering his daughter back to their bakery with “Get thee to the bunnery!” Stephen Fry and Alan Davies make recorded appearances as Bow Bells.

For much of the performance I worried whether the show as a whole was more of an excuse for adults to be childishly raucous than a genuinely engaging event for the kids. But the smaller punters gave every indication of being happy with the antics of Webb, Prendergast, Paul J Medford’s Cat and Simon Kunz as the villainous King Rat. The Lyric has got its Christmas mojo back.

★★★★☆

www.lyric.co.uk

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