Panto season is firmly upon us and the shouts of ‘Oh no he isn’t’ and ‘He’s behind you!’ can be heard coming from theatres up and down the country.
At Manchester’s Opera House the festive offering this year is Dick Whittington starring John Barrowman and 80s comedy duo The Krankies. Strange choice of billing for what is essentially a family show as most of the youngsters going to see it would be oblivious to their back catalogue career. However, the cast have been spreading their love over Christmas in this very same production over the past few years already visiting Glasgow and Birmingham.
Leading man Barrowman kicks off the show in style as Dick (Whittington), blasting in from the gods to the stage with a rocket pack on his back and urging the excitable audience to ‘Shut Up and Dance With Me’. It’s certainly an entrance and a half, not just for the impressive pyrotechnics that accompany him but for also the fact he’s wearing the tightest trousers in Pantoland (if you are sitting the front few rows, you are in for an eye full)!
It’s not long before The Krankies join him on stage and that’s when the mayhem really starts. Councillor Krankie (Ian Tough) is at his wits end as the town is overrun with rats, along with his little lad Jimmy (Jeanette Tough) and grown up daughter Alice (Lauren Hampton) the family are eager to find a solution. In steps Dick (Barrowman) to save the day, with the help of his Tabby cat Tommy (Ryan Kayode).
Whilst the story may be PG the production is very much adult, heavily laced with innuendo after innuendo. Now don’t get me wrong you expect the odd bit of ‘nudge nudge, wink wink’ in panto but when there’s lines like ‘Take your pussy and push off’ it does border on treading a bit too far over the mark on more than one occasion. Whilst the parents in the audience love it, you can see blank faced kids, sniggering teens and shocked grandparents making you wonder if this is the tone the production wants to be setting.
The real icing on the cake though is when, in a (very) surreal moment, Jeanette Krankie changes from little boy Jimmy and comes back on stage in a Madonna-esque Basque belting out ‘Living in a Miniature World’ turning around to reveal the back of the outfit is a thong. That image will remain with theatre goers long after the run finishes in January.
Aside from that Barrowman revels in making Dick camper than Christmas and thoroughly enjoys regaling the crowd to a Village People medley of ‘In The Navy’ and ‘YMCA’. It’s not all like an end of the pier Blackpool show, there’s a side-splitting version of the 12 Days of Xmas (12 Days Underwater) which works like a treat and has the audience in stitches. Where else but in Pantoland could 5 gold rings and 6 geese a laying turn into 5 rubber rings and 6 peshwari nans.
Elsewhere no expense has been spared on the special effects and The Twins FX have done an incredible job of creating a 3D underwater scene which has piranhas and eels jumping out right in front of your eyes. It’s so realistic that for the younger ones especially I’d advise taking off their glasses before they get too scared – my 7 year old nearly jumped out of her skin when she saw a shark heading straight for her with his jaws wide open!
Whether Dick Whittington leaves you slightly in shock at what you have witnessed you still come out with a smile on your face, in fact I laughed so much my stomach hurt. It’s easy to see why people love panto so much – for two hours you get to enjoy tons of silliness and pure escapism, all wrapped up in psychedelic costumes and glitter sprinkled sets. Who could ask for anything more.
Santa Naughty or Nice rating: Naughty. One of the cheekiest pantos I’ve ever seen!
Dick Whittington runs at Manchester’s Opera House until 7 January 2018