PRIVATE DICK WHITTINGTON
B2, Belgrade Theatre, Thursday 8th December, 2016
While the pantomime larges it in the main house, it has become a tradition in the Belgrade’s studio space to stage an alternative version. It has also become a highlight of the season for me. Last year’s excellent Vampomime was one of my top shows of 2015.
Writer Nick Walker – a very inventive man – frames his version of Dick Whittington in the film noir genre of The Maltese Falcon. Dick is a private detective, a Sam Spade figure, making wisecracks and firing off puns like a machine-gun. Walker cleverly marries tropes of the genre with aspects of the panto story: Dick is framed for theft, there’s a shipwreck, a sultan, a cat… It’s an amazing feat of writing and those puns (‘She went to South America? I don’t Bolivia!’) are delightfully groan-worthy.
Heading the company is Keeley Harker as the eponymous detective – a homage to the tradition of principal boy. Her delivery is pitch-perfect, rattling off pun after pun with exquisite timing and a Noo Yoik accent. She is more than ably supported by a versatile trio who play all the other parts. Nicky Cross’s femme fatale, Lauren Alderman, is a sultry vamp, beautifully melodramatic as she stalks and poses around the stage. Anna Piper’s roles include the cat (here a magician’s assistant), a snake charmer and a hypnotist’s wife, all of them larger-than-life and very funny. Liam Nooney is suitably villainous as Mr Hypnoza and his Sultan turns out to be a rather camp Northerner.
It’s as silly as it is clever. Director Robin Colyer adds visual gags to complement the incessant punning and keeps the action rattling along at quite a lick. It adds up to an hour of laugh-out-loud fun. Wonderfully daft, energetically and amusingly handled, this Dick brings pleasure to everyone.