Pantomime is one of the staples of Christmas entertainment that has survived the twin scourges of television and the internet. Its combination of archetypal fairy tales, brash music, song and dance and occasionally bawdy humour (designed to fly over children’s heads yet be immediately recognisable by the grown-ups) has kept both the art form and the theatre itself commercially viable while other forms have struggled. And if anyone hoists the flag for traditional panto locally, every year, it’s the Bristol Hippodrome.
This year’s Dick Whittington comes packed with the usual glitz and glamour, from the twinkling backdrops and costumes to the pop hits, played by a live orchestra . . . not forgetting, of course, a hefty sprinkling of kids’ television fame courtesy of Ben ‘Mr Bloom’ Faulks from CBeebies and Britain’s Got Talent’s Ashleigh Butler and her dog Pudsey.
The tale is told (and wagged) wonderfully, as Dick (Faulks) jauntily arrives in London and wins the gratitude of the local store owner, for the services of his rat-catching cat, and the heart of his daughter Alice Fitzwarren (Bulter). The story takes a sinister turn, of course, when Dick is framed for theft by Queen Rat, splendidly played and sung by Lara Denning.
A few things niggle, though. Andy Ford– who I’ve enjoyed tremendously in other productions – plays a rather self-congratulatory Idle Jack. The humour depends too much on in-jokes and the punch lines are sometimes swallowed, while some gags take bawdy to a new level of obviousness. Faulks, who ought to be driving the action, sometimes seems a bit swept up in it all, falling in with the dance sequences when perhaps he should be master of ceremonies.
But the shouty hilarity of it all is adored by the many under 10s (and possibly older) in the audience, while the choreography and singing is top notch. And when I ask my four-year-old his favourite bit of the panto he unhesitatingly says, “Mr Bloom”. So what do I know? (Mike Gartside)