Like everything Christmas-related, it’s easy to overdo panto; one more spoonful of sprouts, the second bowl of trifle; the 87th coloured tinsel on the Christmas Tree. Dick Whittington at the Hackney Empire was the Whingers’ third panto and to be honest, they were getting a bit over-tired and fractious.
Worse still, Phil had come down with an extreme case of man flu and only dragged himself down to the Hackney Empire because he was the one who had the tickets.
Now the Hackney Empire is a wonderful theatre and has many endearing qualities but these are easily outweighed by the fact that it is in Hackney. Or to be more specific, that it requires reaching it through transportation offered by the North London Line. Grudgingly offered.
This surely is the most miserable part of the London transport network. Three cars per train. Unreliable. Down at heel. Overcrowded.
And it’s curiously difficult to tell from the train which station you’re at. It’s almost as though places such as Canonbury and Dalston Kingsland were embarrassed to be on the North London Line and try not to publicise it too much.
Ken took it over and last month and re-branded it “London Overground” and it will form part of a “near orbital” route which will allow passengers to travel from Richmond to West Croydon. Via Hampstead Heath.
Anyway, Hackney Empire wasn’t going to come to the Whingers so the Whingers had to go to the Hackney Empire for what the critics assured us is London’s panto of the year.
It started promisingly, Phil having secured some rather curious seats at the back of the stalls which have little tables rather like – one imagines – a bingo hall (If Andrew bothered to read his £3 programme rather than just do the kids games which seem the requisite of panto programmes these days he’d realise it was in fact once a bingo hall). Very near the bar, too, and it would have made a marvellous surface for sitting wine-glasses upon. But Phil was so ill, the idea of alcohol made him queasy and Andrew took one look at Phil’s ill-humour and didn’t dare have one in case a quasi-“dog in a manger” situation reared its head.
Moods were not enhanced by the presence of many children at the 1pm Saturday matinee although they turned out to be considerably better behaved than the adults at the next table who talked through most of it.
To be frank, the Whingers don’t agree with the critics at all on this one and we can’t be bothered to say much about it. Gardner and Mountford must be made of sterner stuff than the Whingers. The first act alone was 90 minutes long – about 20 minutes longer than it needed to be. There were far too many different shouting-out requirements – for Idle Jack, for Sara, for Jack, for Alice – so many that Andrew couldn’t remember them all and kept calling out the wrong names.
And then there were the innumerable songs, most of which brought the action juddering to a halt. Only Clive Rowe‘s delicious rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls provoked any interest from the Whingers.
Ah, Clive Rowe. Is he officially a national treasure yet? He should be. Without him this panto would have been a complete washout. He’s absolutely at home in the pantomime dame role – genuinely funny and very self-assured in his ad-libbing. And, of course, he can sing like no-one else.
But really, no-one else made much impression apart from David Ashley (who was apparently in a commercial for Cadbury Roses) as King Rat – excellent, commanding and very scary judging by the child that was so terrified that her father had to carry her to the back of the stalls so that she could scream hysterically next to the Whingers.
Undoubtedly Dick Whittington is a better panto than the one we saw and certainly it is vastly superior to the Barbican’s effort.
But, for our money, there is only one panto in town this Christmas and it’s Cinderella at the Old Vic.
- Bless. Dick started a blog but it has only one entry and hasn’t been updated since 1st October. Lightweight.
- The programme (£3) comes with a set of coloured crayons as it’s interactive (join the dots and so on). This was unfortunate as Phil’s specialist is very strict on the matter of Phil being given access to yellow crayons.