Many Christmas traditions fall by the wayside as the kids get older. Goodbye nativity plays, school Christmas fairs, visits to Santa and the yearly panto. Wait! Goodbye panto? Oh no, we don’t!
When the Oxford Playhouse invited us to their 2018 pantomime, Dick Whittington and his cat, I was a little worried about taking two teens to the performance. Both are obviously too cool to shout at baddies, take part in the sing song or clap along. Or are they?
Dick Whittington: the first half
*Spoiler alert*. Contains details of songs, jokes and plot (yes, I’m sure you think you know this).
The Oxford Playhouse version of Dick Whittington is a loosely adapted version of the original tale. With added panto scenes. Think mice in remote controlled cars, a monkey called Brian and a Brexit bus. Exactly how you’d imagine it.
The first half is a musical extravaganza. From the opening ‘Don’t stop believin’ to Nirvana’s ‘Smells like teen spirit and John Legend’s ‘All of me’ the songs and choreography are brilliant.
An early bakery scene produces the first big laughs. In Generation Game style, Dick and his cat decorate cream cakes as they move along a conveyor belt. Slowly, then a bit faster. You know what’s going to happen. It’s still funny.
My favourite character, without a doubt, was King Rat, played by Max Olesker. King Rat has plans to buy a bakery (or maybe a chain of sandwich shops, Rat-a-manger), become mayor of London, then foreign secretary and finally to take Britain out of the world. Sound familiar?
The youngsters were excellent too. In a moment of recognition my son discovered why the boy he sits next to in English had missed lots of lessons recently. Do teenage boys not talk to each other? (No need to answer).
Sarah the Cook plays the Dame. In time honoured tradition she is in love with Mr Fitzwarren and wears a variety of colourful and wacky costumes. Despite some strategically placed buns on her cook’s dress she wasn’t as smutty as expected. Whilst there were a few quips around Dick’s name most of the adult jokes were references to Brexit. Personally, I rather like a rude joke but I know they’re not for everyone.
It was a brave move to finish the first half with a panto version of a Les Mis song. One of my favourite numbers in the musical, reworded for Dick Whittington. What a terrific way to end!
Dick Whittington: the second half
The panto action moved swiftly from life on board Shippy McShipface en route to Timbuktu (via the Titanic) to a surreal under the water scene. In complete darkness the cast swam amongst jellyfish and a mermaid. I might have guessed that blooming song, Baby Shark, would follow. I definitely didn’t envisage a Doctor Who tardis.
But how else would the characters end up on a tropical island? Subsequently imprisoned, with the help of Brian the monkey. Although not before cat and the Dame had a calypso moment on the beach.
Yes, it all got a little hectic. Add in a Spice Girls medley, lots of dancing and a bee hating Queen. There was hardly room for Dick Whittington in the second half. And they wonder why panto is a peculiarly British institution!
Wait. Slow down. Back to the original tale, and the mayoral election. In a nod to political incorrectness King Rat announces that only middle class boys can vote. Of course, he doesn’t win. But does Dick? Now that would be telling.
All works out well in the end. Rat gets his comeuppance, Dick and Alice fall in love and Katy Perry’s Firework provides a fitting finale with added pyrotechnics.
I know the teens enjoyed it. I saw them laughing when they thought I wasn’t looking. Teen daughter was suitably embarrassed when dad mistakenly stood up for the ladies song. And teen boy was incredulous to discover I didn’t realise the cat’s moves were based on Fortnite dancers. That’s because I’m an adult.
Dick Whittington and his cat is on until Sunday 6 January 2019. Purchase tickets direct from the Oxford Playhouse.
Our tickets were provided by Oxford Playhouse. This is an honest review of our experience. All words are my own; all pictures provided by the Oxford Playhouse.