Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 20th December, 2022
After all these years, Hippodrome pantomime favourite Matt Slack finally lands a title role. At last he is able to make a Dick of himself. If you’ve seen him before you know exactly what you’re going to get, and Slack delivers exactly what they pay him for. No one does what Matt Slack does better than Matt Slack, but there is a strong whiff of we’ve seen it all before. To paraphrase a line from the pantomime, Turn again, turn again, Matt Slack’s doing his turn again.
You can’t help but admire his energy, his skill set (his impressions are off the scale!) and his wit – he is co-credited as scriptwriter along with veteran panto scribe, Alan McHugh. The script is aimed well above the heads of the youngest members of the audience; it’s quite the rudest panto I’ve seen this year, which is fun for the grown-ups who have forked out for the tickets.
As ever at the Hippodrome, it’s a massive spectacle. An early appearance of the Rat King is breath-taking. Unfortunately, its dialogue is largely drowned out by the atmospheric music that underscores the scene. Playing the Rat King’s human emissary, the Rat Man is housewives’ favourite, Marti Pellow, who certainly looks the part. Elegantly costumed, he struts around, performing tuneful songs of his own composition, but he is largely separate from the action. It’s like he’s in a different show. The rest are in a panto while he’s doing his musical theatre thing.
There’s a song about panto and how great it is. We don’t need to know we’re watching a panto. They don’t need to tell us they’re in a panto. Again, the show veers toward musical theatre, which ain’t panto. There’s no slosh scene, no ‘It’s behind you’ moment, and audience participation is kept to a bare minimum.
Conventionally a dancer is cast as the Cat. Interestingly, we get local character Doreen Tipton instead. Doreen has a marvellous deadpan woe-is-me delivery, and it’s great to see her branching away from her usual mockery of people on benefits. As the Spirit of the Bells, TV’s Dr Ranj prances and sparkles around, very much being himself and proving himself a good sport. Ironically, he serves as ‘straight man’ to Matt Slack’s extended pun-filled stories.
Andrew Ryan is Felicity Fitzwarren, a garishly glamorous dame, who definitely needs her own moment in the show out from under the shadow of Slack’s spotlight, while former pop star Suzanne Shaw provides love interest as Alice Fitzwarren. Shaw is strangely underused, with no solo number nor even a duet with Slack.
The cast is supported by a hardworking ensemble of ten, and a seven-piece band, led by Robert Willis. It’s a great looking, great-sounding production, beautifully lit by Ben Cracknell, and there are laughs aplenty throughout. What the show gains in scale and splendour, it loses in heart. Slick and spectacular, it’s enjoyable to be sure, but I feel it lacks some of the elements of the very art form it extols in song.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
What a Dick! Matt Slack reigning supreme (Photo: Paul Coltas)