Dick Whittington and his Cat
Swapping Bowbells for Baubles and Morocco for Meows, the Lyric Hammersmith has yet again come up with an energetic and vibrant pantomime that politely nods at tradition whilst embracing 21st century London.
Traditions become forged over time and, since the Lyric's panto reboot in 2009, a formula has evolved that sees narratives re-aligned, animals given voices and the perennial act two "Glory Glory Hammersmith" drum roll become as anticipated as any a Ghost Gag.
In Tom Wells's Dick Whittington, it is 22-year-old bright young thing Sooz, not simple, yet endearing Dick, who becomes Lord Mayor of London, driven by the goal of hoping to oust wicked Queen Rat from her four year term of office. Fighting for all that is good, the male-led narrative becomes a show of girl power, with Sooz a force for change and positivity alongside trainee Fairy Bauble.
No rhyming couplets nor 'Good vs Bad' duel kick off this panto, but rather a framing device that sees an energetic and enthusiastic Bauble attempting to pass her Fairy Exam. But with Sooz and Queen Rat in competition, rather than Queen Rat and Dick, another subplot is invented to enable the quest narrative to kick in for act two.
Under Queen Rat's reign, all cats were banished from London as a cat's meow, as Bauble humorously explains, is like kryptonite to the villainous ruler. Only one cat remains in the whole of London, permitted leave to stay as Queen Rat stole his meow and hid it in the North Pole after a romantic liaison with a Yeti.
With Cat's meow the only weapon to stop another four years of rotten rodent rule, Dick and the team decide to venture to the Yeti's icy realms in the hope of using it against Queen Rat to ensure her demise.
With so many narrative strands, the piece provides ample opportunity for excellent character development as the plots ebb and flow, mixing and mingling with myriad music numbers complete with wittily rewritten lyrics.
Whereas television is often the common denominator for cultural referencing, at the Lyric it is the Top 40 and All Time Classics, with Sam and the Womp and the Blues Brothers constituting the show's call and response and Bon Jovi inspiring the songsheet.
Music is also integral to the show's set pieces and adds yet another layer of comedy to a well-executed baking scene and what must be the best chase sequence the panto stage has seen for years as Dick, Baps, Cat, Queen Rat and the Yeti travel from the North Pole back to Hammersmith via Bulgaria, Scotland and Hull.
Whilst some may query a bearded Dame in Stewart Wright's superbly gruff, grimacing and game Baps, or the multitude of Dick jokes that keep on coming, the Lyric knows its audience and has created a panto rarity: a show that caters for the teens and twenties.
There may not be much for the little-uns, but the Lyric should be praised for a show without a smack of Disney schmalz that not only dispenses with out-of-date Orientalism but provides strong and inspirational female characters.
Why has it taken until 2014 for a Principal Girl to propose to a Principal Boy? Take note Pantoland, we need more empowered and empowering Principal Girls upon our stage and the Lyric is leading the charge.
Reviewer: Simon Sladen