Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 10th December, 2019
It’s the 125th birthday of this beautiful theatre and what better way to celebrate than to attend the annual pantomime? Written and directed by Ian Adams, this is an old-school show with plenty of spectacle, traditional fare and topical gags, something to keep everyone entertained.
Coronation Street’s Ryan Thomas is the eponymous Dick, and he does a good job as the working-class hero and all-round good guy. He could do with some more audience interaction – this is left largely to the comic characters, such as Aaron James as Idle Jack (a brilliant impressionist and affable fellow) and Ian Adams’s Sarah the Cook, a saucy music-hall character and a double-entendre machine. Adams gives a masterclass in pantomime damery.
Jeffery Holland, himself one of the best dames in the business, has the straighter role of Alderman Fitzwarren. We are in safe hands here. Holland, at the forefront of time-honoured routines like the mop drill, makes the material work, whether you’ve seen it a hundred times or are coming to it for the first time, as many of the younger members of the audience are.
Su Pollard tries her best as the villainous Queen Rat, stalking around like someone from an office Halloween party. She is great at her musical numbers but there is a conflict between her persona and her role, as if she wants us to like her and not like to hate her. I would have cast her as a novice Fairy Bow Bells, seeking to earn her wings (aka yellow coat).
Not that there is any problem with the Fairy Bow Bells we get. Julie Paton exudes a kind of authoritative benevolence; there is something of Julie Andrews about her – again, we are in very safe hands. Paton also choreographs and there is a dazzling routine where everyone is seated, a kind of convoluted hand jive that is as charming as it is complex.
Katie Marie-Carter sings sweetly as love interest Alice Fitzwarren but the show is just about stolen by Jordan Ginger as rather posh talking cat Tommy.
The script is peppered with quickfire hit-or-miss gags so you hardly stop laughing. We don’t get the underwater scene we might expect in this panto and, curiously, with Sarah the Cook on board we don’t get a slapstick cooking scene. We do get a scary surprise to close the first act and – because it’s gala night tonight, there is an extra-special guest appearance from veteran comic Jimmy Tarbuck himself! Tarbuck comes on dressed as a sultan, does a few gags and reminiscences a bit, urging us to cherish this grand and beautiful venue.
It occurs to me that this may be the only pantomime based on an historical figure – unless you write in and tell me there was indeed a Mother Goose – but what matters here is the story still works as a piece of family entertainment, and its presented here by highly skilled professionals and with oodles of cheekiness and charm.