Dick Whittington at Bristol Hippodrome

dickwhittingtonIt’s panto season at Bristol Hippodrome, where some old favourites are back. And so are some relatively new faces.

In 2014, it’s time once again for Dick Whittington, the story of a poor but good hearted boy and his cat, who, against all odds, proves his worth to become the esteemed Mayor of London.

We’re treated to everything we’ve come to expect of a good ole British pantomime: innuendo; glitz; bad jokes; colour; popular song; romance; a tale of good versus evil and not a little pottiness. What’s more, all the extra bits that we Bristol Hippodrome panto goers now take for granted is abundantly present: a very funny script and appearance-in-drag by Writer and Director Eric Potts and a winning showtime performance by the much-loved Andy Ford.

As Sarah the Cook, Potts is our extravagant Dame, his camp facial expressions enough to have kept Charles Hawtrey on his toes. Sarah’s food-themed costumes are perfectly delicious: who wouldn’t want a couple of huge buns as breasts? Andy Ford plays Idle Jack, another variation on the role he plays every single year, he admits. But that same old character is the one we love! He’s the Andy Ford who has us laughing and singing every time! He’s the one who never lets us down with his silly, exaggerated movements and his daft tom foolery.

That Potts and Ford are used to performing together is evident as we witness their comfortable on-stage banter; my favourite scene involves these two funny men and some appropriately naughty sausages. Of course it does.

But it’s not all about them; far from it. Brenda Edwards is sweet and round as Fairy Bowbells and, in stark contrast to Barbara Windsor in the same role five Bristol Hipp pantos ago, it’s refreshing not only to have a black actress playing this part but to listen to a powerful singing voice.  There are also decent support roles from Lara Denning as Queen Rat (it’s always good to have a female baddie) and Ben Goodridge as the Sultan/Alderman Fitzwarren, while Hayley Jane Goold’s Tommy the Cat does some impressive gymnastics, especially when catching those dastardly rats.

Our hero, played by Ben Faulks (aka the unexpected heartthrob of many a mum, CBeebies’ Mr Bloom) is pleasant to watch and clear of diction, giving us a convincing enough Dick. But it’s Ashley, one half of that Britain’s Got Talent act with her dancing dog, Pudsey, who is the real surprise of the evening. None of us had expected Ashley to be so believable and confident as Alice Fitzwarren and she plays her role with conviction, with clarity. The ‘prince’ and ‘princess’ roles in any pantomime are often the weaker among the cast but not so this year! And this pair share a rapport, being comfortable with each other and even showing a little romantic chemistry.

My 8 year old’s favourite part was seeing Pudsey the Dog do some of his cute dancing, though she would have liked more of him (it’s easy to see, however, why this might not be possible). It’s revelatory that the casting team have gone with a ‘star’ who actually means something to this younger generation, someone they know, and we’re sure there were more little children at the theatre than than is usual. Pudsey is definitely a crowd pleaser.

The biggest big-up, however, is for Terry Parsons’ set and costume design. The colours are dazzling and the seemingly myriad, beautiful backdrops are as glittery as panto deserves. The whole set gives you a glow reminiscent of mulled cider and warm mince pies on a freezing cold Christmas Eve. And the costumes are sparklingly handsome, particularly those worn by the tireless troupe of dancing, welcoming villagers.

As a grown-up, I would like to have seen more camp and innuendo/smut, although the legacy of Louie Spence’s performance last year is one that makes any production comparably tame. I definitely didn’t let myself go as much as usual but, then again, I normally come away from a Hippodrome pantomime hoarse from screaming, hissing and singing.

This show is packed with up-to-date songs by the likes of Pherrell Williams, One Direction and Ella Henderson, which delighted my daughter.  Bursting to the brim with gaiety and fun, Dick Whittington will please any die-hard lover of panto. Go and see it – you’ll be glad you did!

Dick Whittington in on at Bristol Hippodrome until Sunday 4th January 2015

– Review by Becky Condron

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