Review – Dick Whittington and his Cat, The Barbican

Saturday 2 December 2006

dickcartoon.gifIt must have seemed like a great idea at the time – secure controversial playwright Mark Ravenhill to write the Barbican’s Christmas panto, Dick Whittington and his Cat.
But what a nightmare for the Barbican’s marketing department which is now faced with the task of persuading the public that this output from the man whose most famous play is called Shopping and Fucking is suitable family fare.


And judging by the poor numbers on the show’s first Friday, they haven’t been altogether successful even though the show is indeed a traditional panto in every respect – principal boy, pantomime dame, villain, slapstick scene, shipwreck scene, audience singalong, birthday announcements.

Sadly, its greatest achievement is to make you realise just what a difficult genre the panto is to master (far harder than tragedy, in Andrew’s humble opinion). A good panto walks a difficult tightrope, giving the kids a theatrical feast to gorge themselves on while quietly dropping topical or risque titbits into the mouths of the adults.

It’s a path that Dick Whittington fails to tread. There are too many titbits for the adults and while some are quite amusing (Nikolas Grace’s King Rat in Tony Blair mode; the inclusion in the main love song of Prince Charles’s famous “Love. Whatever love is” epigram) the result was that whole sections were often met with bemused silence from the kids in the audience.

Sadly, one of the biggest problems is the casting of Roger Lloyd Pack (Owen in The Vicar of Dibley, Trigger in Only Fools and Horses) as pantomime dame Sarah the Cook He gives it a good fist, but he’s clearly not confident in the role and throws away a lot of his lines.

The person who seems most at home in all this is Sam Kelly as Alderman Fitzwarren. He looks as though he’s having a great time and was born to play panto. Ravenhill has written swathes of amusing alliterative sentences for him. But sadly alliteration doesn’t seem to be the average nine year old’s idea of entertainment.

To be fair, it all warmed up in the second half. Maybe the kids had been knocking back booze at the bar in the intermission but not least because the technical sound problems which plagued the first half seemed to have been mostly resolved. Even so, if you’re sitting in the front row of the stalls (as Andrew was) you should really be able to hear every word. [Addendum: I have been righly chastised By “Biddy” for not pointing out that this was a preview]

By far the most amusing scene for Andrew was the early scene set in a toyshop in which the Queen (our Queen, that is) comes in to try out some water pistols which results in a massive soaking for those in the front rows of the stalls.
Lloyd Pack closes the show a twist on the old gag: “If you enjoyed yourselves, tell all your friends. If you didn’t my name is Serena McKellen and this is the Old Vic”. But was it Andrew’s imagination or was this line delivered with a tinge of earnestness hitherto unseen in his performance?

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12 Responses to “Review – Dick Whittington and his Cat, The Barbican”

  1. Biddy Says:

    You were watching the second preview. Did you not expect there to be technical problems? Thats what you get at previews.

  2. andreworange Says:

    Hi Biddy. Thanks for your comment. A preview? Really? Does it say that here? http://www.barbican.org.uk/panto/the-show
    Pretty shoddy.
    And I don’t expect there to be technical problems at a preview. I paid good money, and that’s what the technical and the dress are for. Anyway, the technical problems were the least of its problems…

  3. Paul Says:

    Well… Technical problems can happen at previews as they still need to iron some bugs out… When I saw the preview of Wicked it was a relief that they didn’t stop the show as they had for the majority of performances up until that point…

    Then there are some shows that you just shouldn’t see in preview… Cabaret springs to mind…

  4. andreworange Says:

    He he. Well, Paul, would it not have been more of a blessing if the technical problems had halted Wicked in its entirety and everyone had been sent home?

    Do you have evidence that Cabaret got better after the opening night? My spies lead me to believe othewise…

  5. Simon K Says:

    What were the songs like? I heard Jim Bob ex-Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine had penned a couple? Were there any loud guitars in evidence?

  6. andreworange Says:

    No loud guitars Mr Simon K. And regrettably, no tunes either. I regret I can’t answer you question as – unusually – I didn’t purchase a programme on this occasion. I was grumpy because there were loads of children running around the theatre for some reason. And no-one would buy me a fairy wand.

  7. stephenb Says:

    The point of a preview is to iron out difficulties. At this stage a show is still a work in progress, hence a reduced ticket price. You get what you pay for.

  8. andreworange Says:

    Well, stephenb, my point to biddy was that on the Barbican’s website it doesn’t say it’s a preview or that the tickets are cheaper.

  9. daveonthego Says:

    Looks like those difficulties with sound might not be so ironed out after all. Look at this review in Todays on line Evening Standard by someone who saw it on Monday 11th. They say “The jokes where just glossed over and lost, the jokes we could hear where bad”. mmmmhhmm!
    http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/theatre/show-23357937-details/Dick+Whittington+%26+His+Cat/showReview.do?reviewId=23377182&expand=true#readerComments

  10. daveonthego Says:

    In reference to my previous comments. Actually the review was on the 6th so He may have seen it sometime from the opening night onwards.

  11. Wickedboy Says:

    Ive been a panto-goer for the best part of my life. Saw my first art age 4, was in my first by age 6 etc etc. This panto at the Barbican was the worst ive ever seen and ive seen some bad ones i promise! Forst and foremost tho, Mr Lloyd Pack bow your head in shame!! If we lose panto in this country its because of worthless productions like this. They handed out cards for the audience to vote for next years pant at the Barbican- i wrote – guess?!

  12. A.Teach Says:

    Brilliant sets, colourful and very theatrical, like a full scale version of a model theatre but oh dear what miscasting – I agree – RLP was dire – I have rarely seen an sctor so uncomfortable in a role, he threw his lines away, looked embarrassed as if he wished he was somewhere else and most of the audience did too! As to the jokes, well if he got them no-one else did! I have never been to a panto with such little feedback from the audience, maybe we just didn’t get it -and when we saw it, during the third week, it still had teething problems, not jsut technical – it was way overlong.
    Better luck this year maybe!


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