DICK WHITTINGTON | Palladium, London

This might be the most expensive pantomime ever made, and boy do you see your money on the stage. We are blind from sequins, celebrities, and technical effects from the moment we enter the theatre. A flying double decker bus, dancing gingerbread men, ceaseless high kicks, and bona fide theatre royalty is just the beginning.

Musical theatre legend Elaine Paige is worth the price of admission alone as Queen Rat, belting out her hits from Evita, Chess, Sunset Boulevard and more, still (remarkably) as wonderful as ever. It is amazing that Julian Clary as the Spirit of the Bells can top this, but his costumes, camp charisma, constant catty comments and comic timing are what define the pantomime. His duet with Paige, “I Know Dick So Well”, has to be seen to be believed.

The actual story of Dick Whittington (played by award-winning Charlie Stemp) — and his battle to defeat London’s rats — is completely side-lined in favour of vaudeville set pieces from ventriloquist Paul Zerdin (and audience participation), budget national treasure Nigel Havers (as himself), and Gary Wilmot (who sings every London tube station). This essentially relegates the “pantomime” aspects to nothing more than a framing device, but with acts this good, who cares?

Incomprehensibly British, outlandishly opulent, the style and humour is straight out of the Palldium’s light entertainment from the 1960s and before. Even black British dance troupe Diversity are made the exotic Sultan and subjects of Morocco. This isn’t just a panto, it’s a time machine. Brexit entertainment? Yes. The best panto ever? That’s democracy; and the crowds are going wild.

Dick Whittington and his cat can be found at the London Palladium until 14 January 2018.

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