Tara Theatre’s Dick Whittington Goes Bollywood, written by Harvey Virdi (lyrics by Farrukh Dhondy) and directed by Jatinder Verma, is overtly adult-focused from the off. Although the sexual nudge-nudge, wink-wink innuendos are still there in all their unsubtle and unsophisticated glory, most of the humour is created from topical (and mainly political) references. Dave and ‘Cleggy’ don’t get off so well. Also under attack are northerners, the Bullingdon Club, the recession and the Leveson Inquiry; choices as predictable as some of the songs they have chosen to wittily adapt (‘Gangnam Style’ inevitably proving a favourite), but – crucially – not the less successful for it.
When jokes and songs are flying thick and fast, there is great pleasure to be had from this panto, which satisfies all those childish cravings and lures us along the path of the traditional just enough to surprise us when it departs from it. However, despite the scenes of promise there were too many dips in the pace, writing quality and energy. Perhaps it was because it was press night – and the laughs, cat calls, and repartee felt a little forced – but when the concluding lines described the cast as “ecstatic” that it was over, it hit home that it was that sense of real enjoyment that was lacking from the whole production. Sam Kordbacheh (Sir Rattan Singh Chuaa) seemed especially self-conscious, Mehrish Yasin’s constant grin (as Alice) looked no more genuine just because it never faltered, and although Krupa Pattani (Dikra), Caroline Kilpatrick (Fairy Godmother) and Deven Modha (Billi) did give as good as they got, the only person truly seeming to be having a ball was sensational singer Sohini Alam, who was sat up on the band’s stage determinedly out of the action.
Dick Whittington Goes Bollywood does have some key ingredients: superb music and easy contextual humour make for a winning combo when partnered with an audience’s ready willingness to get into the Christmas spirit. With a bit of tightening and speeding up – those cooking lessons could be lost for one – and more relaxed evidence of enjoyment shown from the cast, this glitzy if slightly homemade number should do just fine.
Dick Whittington Goes Bollywood is playing at Tara Theatre until 5 January 2013. For more information and tickets please see the Tara Theatre website.