Review – Dick Whittington with Joan Collins, Birmingham Hippodrome

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Blizzards, sub-zero temperatures, Birmingham: few had the tenacity and spirit of endurance to face the trials and tribulations involved in this pilgrimage but the Whingers did. You can, as many do, say what you like about us but don’t say we don’t work hard.

For it was with gusto that the Whingers took on a city at a virtual standstill due to Saturday’s inclement weather in order to witness Joan Collins‘ panto début.

Frankly we would have hitched a ride on the back of a snow plough to be there.

As it was Phil had come fully prepared with a sackful of provisions, extra thermals, heated hair curlers and what ever else may have been needed to get the Whingers through a night stuck on a train somewhere between London and what used to be called Britain’s second city.

But we made it. We saw the very first appearance of La Collins in a pantomime.

Others were not so lucky.

Ten minutes after the curtain was due to rise there were still swathes of empty seats at Birmingham’s Hippodrome: happily so, as the Whingers were told they could move forward if they wished. Not needing to be asked twice they grabbed their many layers of Arctic clothing and laid claim to the centre of the third row of the stalls, ready for Joanie’s close up and gagging for it.

This production, it turned out, is a gorgeously appointed Dick Whittington boasting detailed painted backdrops and scrims framed with gloriously gothic teasers and tormentors (designer Hugh Durrant).

It opens as every panto should with the villain – in this case Nigel Havers‘ King Rat – rising through a trap in swirls of green smoke delivering his lines in verse.

Then we are off to London Town where the townspeople dance in wittily outrageous medieval costumes. The Whingers sighed with relief knowing they were in safe hands. Proper panto. Everything was as it should be. A far, far cry from the travesty of a few days earlier.

This Dick is a panto that rips through the plot leaving ample time for star turns, local and topical references, singalongs and the requisite silliness the genre demands.

Havers is surprisingly energetic and a terrifically hissable King Rat Blake, whose evil deeds are all done to appease his Queen (called Alexis, of course) but “It’s never enough for her indoors”.

But even Havers’ dramatic entrance can’t compete with that of Julian Clary‘s Spirit of the Bells (in fine form referencing the snow: “I’m told there’s 8 inches outside”) whose spectacular entrance in Thunderbird 1 seemed unlikely to be topped.

But then: cue the theme from Dynasty and bring on a giant glitterball. Pyrotechnics flashed as Queen Rat’s throne slowly edged its way to the front of the stage, revolving to reveal the star attraction bookended by two scantily clad males who one can only assume practise exhaustive gym regimes.

Scrunched into a sequined outfit Joanie has gone for the Pauline Prescott-as-well-heeled dominatrix look. Her opening song-and-dance routine redefines the term but with a rather endearing air of slight bewilderment and not a little guidance she gets through it like the trouper she is. There’s a soupçon of Mae West in her last film Sextette about it and who can grumble at that.

Cracking her rat’s tail whip whilst puffing and pouting her lines with her usual stilted speech mannerisms she proceeds to wrestle gags to the floor and below it until they’re six feet under. If she’d beaten them over the head with a brace-weight they couldn’t have ended up any deader. Let us just say that comedy is not Joanie’s forte. But hey, we strapped tennis rackets strapped to our feet see this. It’s Joan Collins in panto! It would be would be rude, nay, downright impossible to take your eyes of a 77 year old icon making her first appearance in the world of panto and not sit there with an inane grin on your face much like the wise men and the shepherds must have done two millennia ago.

One delicious disaster was sadly averted when Joan’s wig became entangled in one of the dancing rat’s whiskers which was tugging dangerously at her syrup. After frenzied fumbling the rat managed to separate himself and save the show from some front page headlines. But only by a whisker.

It’s Clary who provides the panto Araldite and the glamour: Jeffrey Holland‘s underwritten Dame Felicity Fitzwarren loses out on the outrageous costume budget to Clary and even Joan herself only gets two costume changes – but that’s still two more than Hasseloff’s Captain Hook.

If Havers, Collins, Clary and Holland weren’t enough, there’s also panto veteran Keith Harris with Orville and Cuddles –  something for the kiddies and surprisingly providing something for the adults too. Perhaps we were in the right frame of mind or just relieved to have made it at all but his well-honed act provided some decent titters.

We still lament the absence of a slosh scene, a principal boy, a song-sheet (although there was a singalong) and sweet throwing. But at least we had:

  • Topical references: King Rat is an ex-banker and leader of the rat coalition
  • Gags that make you groan:
    • I used to work in a bowling alley?
    • Was it a real job?
    • No, just ten-pin.
  • Self-references: “Are you on the poster,” Rat sneers to Dick

Plus some wonderful choreography from Paul Robinson, the obligatory bit of Glee (90% of this year’s pantos must surely be doing “Don’t Stop Believing”), Julian Clary singing “Wand’rin’ Star” and Joan Collins singing “I Want To Be Evil”. What’s not to like?

Who knows, but the rest of the audience was strangely unexcited. Perhaps they were worried about getting home; perhaps they couldn’t quite believe their eyes. Yes, it was a bit shaky (it was the first preview) and yes Mr Clary was a bit blue at times (thankfully) and yes it did have that Churchill dog from the car insurance adverts in it.

Perhaps the big difference was that they hadn’t sat through Peter Pants at the New Wimbledon two nights before. If they think this is bad….

Rating

Rating score 4-5 full-bodied

27 Responses to “Review – Dick Whittington with Joan Collins, Birmingham Hippodrome”

  1. Panto King Says:

    This production was the worst i have seen at the hippodrome, save your money and see a local panto as the quality would be the same if not better.

    • Glen Knott Says:

      I was at this afternoon’s performance with my mother and a friend and was not at all happy – Joan Collins failed to appear! Some bloke with a mic shuffled on and told us she is suffering from a cold. Joan may well have been ill, but she just doesn’t strike me as the sort to fall at the first hurdle. After all, this is the woman who tells people with cancer to ‘stop moaning and get on with it’ – or words to that effect. Hasn’t she heard of the flu jab?!
      Unfortunately the stand-in wasn’t very good and they might as well have got someone from the audience. And why they put in a young man – OK he’s from Birmingham – to fill the shoes of a 77 year old woman, we will never know!
      Nearly everyone we spoke to went there to see Joany therefore the audience should have been told in the foyer of Miss Collins illness and been allowed to rebook or have their money back if they so choose.
      This really is a let down for a historic venue like Birmingham Hippodrome, that charges a handsome price for the ‘UK’s biggest and best panto’.
      Julian Clary and Nigel Havers turned in sterling performances. Had it not been for them, I definitely would have demanded my money back. Keith Harris and Orville were OK but the show can definitely do without his 10 min singalong spot at the end, it was awful.

      • Norma Says:

        I was at the show yesterday and was so disappointed Joan was not in it. The stand in was OK but I felt very let down that Joan had not dosed herself up and made it in. She let the rest of the cast, the audience and Birmingham Hippodrome down.

    • GRAHAM CLARK Says:

      I have seen the Pantomimes in Hull,Bradford,Darlington this panto season and now Birmingham and the 240 mile round trip from Yorkshire to see Dick Whittington was worth it. We went to the matinee on Sunday 9 January and after reading some of the comments on this blog was worried about what to expect. I need not have been worried as its a fantasic show – Joan Collins is ace as Queen Rat, Nigel Havers is not dull as King Rat and puts in a very energetic performance, Julian Clary has comes out with enough innuendo comments to last you until next christmas and Keith Harris and Orville provide some good old fashioned comedy. Its the first panto I have been to where the show and lines are probably more aimed at adults than the kids, though they will enjoy the show.There is not one part of the show where it drags and with Joan Collins looking the part and putting her heart and soul into the part as Queen Rat it really was one of the best panto’s I have seen this season. If anyone is reading this from the cast or QDOS – you have a show to be proud of and I have never laughed so much in ages. This will be an hard act to follow.

  2. David Says:

    Brilliant review – The Whingers have been my find of the year and now outweigh Charles Spencer as our main theatre influence. We love them, unless Mr Grumpy above.

  3. jan Says:

    i was there on saturday and thought joanie got better as the show went on. the theatre was half empty and most of the audience were a bit weather worn! i was impressed by the panto and found it very entertaining maybe more for adults. joan collins is definately an icon.

  4. Patrick Says:

    Saw it today (22nd) – much disappointment that Ms Collins had phoned in sick.Some bloke from the chorus took her part and was beyond dreadful – reading from the script on stage – don’t they have understudies any more. Only Julian Clary seemed to be making an effort – the rest was rather lacklustre and strangely unengaging. Have been coming to the Hippodrome panto for years – this was the most forgettable

  5. Drama Queen Says:

    Got to agree with the review above. Julian Clary was excellent and Keith Harris was good. The costumes and scenery were first rate but the Churchill insurance dog was tedious and cynical.

    But the shambles of some random bloke from Birmingham having ‘Dynasty’ barbs aimed at him was lame, especially when he was trying to fumble his way through the script as he went along. Might as well have got someone out of the audience.

    The Hippodrome is only too quick to heap praise on itself (will be interesting to see if my review makes it onto their website) but this was pathetic. My daughters church hall pantomime at £5 a ticket and just 150 seats had understudies ready to go, so why not here? Utterly unproffesional and contemptuous of those paying a fairly hefty sum to witness such a farce.

  6. contradictions Says:

    BASICALLY BOTH YOU FUCK WITS ABOVE ARE TALKING UNBELIEVABLE AMOUNTS OF SHIT!

    1. FIRSTLY YOU COME UP ONTO THAT STAGE AND DO A BETTER JOB THAN ALL OF US (IF YOU DARE YOU UNTALENTED PIECES OF SHIT)

    2. ALOT OF TIME MONEY AND SWEAT WENT INTO THAT PRODUCTION AND ALL YOU CAN DO IS COMMENT (LIKE WHAT YOU SAYS HAS ANY IMPORTANCE, PEOPLE ARE STILL GOING TO PAY TO SEE THIS, ALL YOU ARE IS A ROCK IN THE ROAD)

    AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST… I’D LOVE TO SEE YOUR DAUGHTERS PANTO! TOO PISS MY SELF WHEN SHE PROBABLY FALLS OVER ON STAGE AND PISSES HER SELF (LITERALLY COZ SHES FIVE AND YOU’VE PULLED HER OUT OF NAPPYS TO EARLY)

    ALL THIS BULL SHIT YOU KEEP GOING ON ABOUT MAKES ME LAUGH! I ENJOYED WRITING THIS COMMENT BECAUSE YOU CLEARLY DO A NINE TO FIVE! AND ARE A BAD GEEK SO UPSET BY A PANTO???? OOOOOOO MAYBE YOU SHOULD HAVE STUDIED MORE WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER SO YOU WOULD HAVE HAD SOMETHIGN MORE TO FOCUS ON THAN A BLOG! (THIS SOUNDS LIKE A CONTRADICTION, BUT IM JUST LETTING YOU KNOW HOW SAD YOU SOUND)

    SO THE DAY YOU PROOVE YOU CAN PUT ON A PANTO OF THAT STANDARD, OR EVEN A SCHOOL PLAY THEN YOU CAN COMMENT! BUT UNTIL THEN PIPE DOWN YOU TWATS! ….. I BET YOUR BOTH FAT ASWELL ARRRR HAHAHHAHAHAAHAAH

    MUCH LOVE YOU CUNTS

    • webcowgirl Says:

      Hi Mr. Contradictions,

      I am thinking maybe if you’d spent a bit more time in school you might have learned how to type without the caps lock on and even, perhaps, memorize a script … like a professional? We all stick to what we do best, but the good news is there’s always a job selling ice creams at the interval.

      • Fat bloke! Says:

        I’m not defending this person, but I have to say, stepping out infront of an audience, who expect to see “Joan Collins” but are presented with an understudy, is not an easy thing to do. Having seen the show with both individuals, the understudy does deliver the character across far better. But they will never live up to those expecting to see Joan.
        I say fair play to the chap….but the writer of the above needs to take peoples comments for what they are, and let them simply wash over them.
        And for the record, I am straight, Fat, and none homophobic!

  7. Drama Queen Says:

    GAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA !!!

    I take it you got one of your serfs to post that from your mansion in Beverley Hills eh Beyonce? I’m so humbled by such a megastar taking time out to have a good old hissy fit at me.

    Thanks for your deep and intellectual response ‘contradictions’. That’s cheered me up for the day! Meanwhile, at least one member of the cast should be spending more time rehearsing, no?

  8. disgruntled Says:

    My friend and I went to the matinee of this panto Tuesday 21st, we were really looking forward to seeing Joan and Nigel and said that we can’t remember going to a panto with so many names in it. We were very surprised at how poor Joan and Nigel came across, very amatuerish. Nigel forgot his lines and you would think with his experience of acting, would have managed to get out of it, without anyone noticing but he just kept repeating the line, until Julian clevery remarked that he wasn’t surprised that he didn’t last in Corrie, as he couldn’t remember his lines. Joan just pranced across the stage and didn’t project her voice and given that she mumbled with an American drawl,it was difficult to make out what she was saying. We thought that Julian, Keith Harris and the principals, in fact all the cast except Joan and Nigel, were so much more entertaining, in fact they lite up the stage when they came on. When Joan or Nigel came on, it definitely became quite boring. I love pantomimes but was disappointed by the two supposedly main attractions. Hasn’t put me off pantos though.

  9. Mark I Says:

    Too brilliant.

    Please encourage more commenters TOO POST ALL IN CAPUTULS with really bad spelling, it’s hysterical!! Not two shore abowt the swareing tho.

    Sadly, not actually sure what ‘contradictions’ was trying to say.

    Hey ho, thanks for going to Birningham (so we don’t have to be).

  10. Random bod Says:

    I went to the afternoon showing on the 19th with my wife and 2 children. And I have to say it was an excelent show. It cost a lot of money for a family of 4 to go and with the weather as well I expected to hate it but I have to say it was well worth it!

    My children are now totally obsessed with Keith Harris and Orville and cuddles.

    Julian Clary and Keith Harris where the stars of the show for me. And to all those moaning about the acting and fluffing of lines.. Its Panto its part of the course and with people such as Julian Clary there sharp enough to wing it.

  11. Max Says:

    Hi, Contradictions.

    You possibly won’t be back on this site, but I thought you might like to know your identity in the cast of Dick Whittington has been made, and a complaint is being lodged with the company stage manager to dissuade you posting such libellous and filthy comments again. I doubt you will be easily re-employed by Qdos.

  12. Theatre Fairy Says:

    We made it up to Brum from London last Tuesday, braving both the snow and the relentless cheeriness of the woman serving trolley refreshments on Chiltern trains (why do people think that wearing a lop-sided Santa hat gives them licence to behave in such an offensive way?).
    Joan can’t act for toffee but is remarkable for 77. I know I’d have been cheesed off if she’d not been able to perform but I have to say, the poor woman had practically no voice that evening. The audience were curiously unresponsive. Perhaps they were as bowled over by how good Nigel Havers looked in eyeliner and mascara as I was. And we were sitting in the circle.
    Saw Quentin Letts in the audience that night – he’d be a good stand-in for Joanie. Bit of rouge, nicely-upholstered black basque…What’s not to love?

  13. mattyd Says:

    Just returned from the Hippodrome this evening (29th Dec). No Ms. Collins as she was ill. This did not detract from the show. Her replacement did a good job. The cast were great and the show had something for the group I took: A pensioner, a pre-teen and an old queen. We all had a wonderful time. Laughed at the same jokes (although I suspect for different reasons). The only bit I am not sure worked was the Churchill Dog. Julian Clarey – V funny, Nigel Hayvers – Great Villan, Keith Chegwin and Emu (or whatever he’s called) – hilarious. Dick & Mrs Dick – Nice couple. I am sure the chorus were SClub7 and my mother is convinced the cat was played by Thelma Barlow(Being quite hippy!). Overall fab!!!!


  14. Ms Collins and her press agent must’ve been relieved that there were two homosexuals in advanced middle age in the audience. Does anyone else know who Joan Collins is, or refer to her as an “icon”, except the loyal, lapdog-like Gays? She’s a bad actress who had a hit with a camp 80s TV show (which was, let’s be clear, utter shite) and now trades on nostalgia, the occasional spot of reality TV, and the strange pseudo-Freudian obsession of The Gays to avoid disappearing into complete oblivion. What IS it about women with clipped (and affected) Mitfordesque accents and a moth-eaten fur stole that gets The Gays all in a flutter? Do Joan and her kind embody the bitchy hyper-femininity to which you all long to express? Most intriguing, and one for Phil’s shrink, I imagine.

    I’ll bet you gave her a standing ovation too, didn’t you, you pair of great faffing nancy boys.

  15. John Gumley Says:

    Thursday 30th December matinee
    What a wonderful show for us and the three grandchildren, even though Miss Collins was missing. Only gripe; it was a lot of money each to lay out (obviously extra) for the star turn not to br there.

  16. Helen Davies-Papadaki Says:

    The best Christmas present ever that my parents gave to my four boys. Born and living in Greece they had never enjoyed the delights of British panto before. I, born and brought up in Brum, was lucky enough to enjoy one every Christmas, as a child. Even though the weather was treacherous and we were advised not to travel by train from Stratford upon Avon, on Wednesday 22nd Dec, we made it to the panto. Despite the absence of Ms Collins (sorry, but I wasn’t that disappointed), we enjoyed the magic created by the skills of Julian Clarey, Keith Harris and all the cast. The production lived up to and exceeded my hopes and the boys LOVED it. Thank you Birmingham and hope to return again soon.


  17. As John, two above, says, Stardate December 30th, Joangate, no show. Still a terrific panto which our party of eight, age ranges from 8 to mid-60s absolutely adored. Julian Clary and Keith Harris completely brilliant. Nigel Havers hugely better than we expected and Ms Collins’ understudy knew all his words and carried it off with aplomb. One of the best pantos we’ve seen.

  18. Sam Wedjie Says:

    After the huge success of Sleeping Beauty last year, Dick Whittington had a lot to live up to. Sadly, I don’t think it was managed. The show lacked the fluency and ‘magic’ of previous years.
    Special effects (in my opinion, what makes a panto magical) where at a minimum, although when used they were impressive. Nigel Havers is a truly brilliant actor, but sadly I don’t think he quite clicked with the part, and maybe panto isn’t really his forte, his performance was not as good as expected.
    On the plus side, Alice and Dick both had stunning voices and at parts truly blew the audience away. The Finale to the first Act was magical and had the ‘spark’ that the rest of the show lacked; I was also disappointed when the actual Finale was nowhere near as good, and seemed somewhat rushed. Julian Clary played his part very well, and continued to wow the audience with his wardrobe. The Titanic Swimming/Flying scene was one of the best, Julian’s comedic singing, followed by Jack actually singing the song REALLY well, slotted together perfectly. Keith Harris and Orville were fantastic, and Cuddles the Monkey had the audience in stitches ‘Ill kill that duck!’ Jeffrey Holland had a few funny lines, but was not as strong as previous Dames, and I feel was somewhat dwarfed by Julian. The scenery worked very well, the lighting added great effect and the choreography was faultless.
    This show provided an entertaining night, although sadly was not the best I have seen from the Hippodrome.

  19. Susan Says:

    Review from newly formed West Midland Whiners covering Brum, Coventry and
    Stratford-upon-Avon* (*said in RSC actorly manner)

    We booked our tickets for the panto in January 2010 and nearly fell off our bar stools when the casting was announced last summer – all our favourites in one show.

    There was definitely an 1980s feel, The Joan Collins Fan Club, Dynasty, Hi-de-Hi, The Charmer, Keith Harris who had his own TV show back then and now all united on one stage.

    Julian Clary – we have seen him on his Lord of the Mince tour in Coventry, at the Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival discussing his second novel and now in panto – he was fab and loved his “I was born under a Wandrin’ Star”.

    Keith Harris – Orville cute – Cuddles annoying

    Nigel Havers – big Nigel fan so can do no wrong

    Miss Joan Collins – simply fabulous as Miss Joan Collins

    In true West End Whinger style we waited at stage door and I had my photo taken with Nigel who was utterly charming and my friend with the glamorous Joan. Heaven!

    Our rating – WEW are sophisticated London types who swig red wine, here in the Midlands it varies:

    Birmingham: Jager Bomb
    Coventry: supermarket economy label beer
    Stratford-upon-Avon: G&T ice & a slice in the Dirty Duck

    Verdict: Jager Bomb x 5 + a bucket for later

    As my friend said, how are they going to top this for the next panto?


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