Alistair Frederick bounds onstage. “What do we love?” he cries. “Big Dick” we roar. Thus we have Charming Dick, the latest collaboration between the Royal Vauxhall Tavern and The Cockpit, bringing us the rudest, lewdest and crudest panto this festive season. We’ve got a cat with Tourettes, a Prince who’s anything but in the bedroom and a pianist wearing a Donald Trump mask. Shakespeare it ain’t. Enjoyable it is.
Our hero Big Dick (Frederick) has moved from up t’North, to seek fame and fortune in Marleybone with his Aunty Twankey (“the T is silent,” actor Tim McArthur informs us). Their dreams of opening ‘Cinders Cabaret Bar With A Dark Room Experience,’ could be dashed by the Evil Witch (Matthew Jones), who’s after Twankey’s magic lamp. Oh, and her son The Prince (Stewart Briggs) has fallen in love with Dick, despite the fact he’s engaged to Babe Woods (Abigail Carter-Simpson). Let’s be fair, the plot is as thin as a wet paper towel, and just an excuse to have a multitude of jokes thrown at us. And all credit to writer Paul Emelion Daly, Charming Dick might just have the highest ratio of jokes to dialogue I’ve ever heard in a panto. It’s a shame the majority don’t stick – Daly is happy to aim for the lowest common denominator too many times – but it’s never boring. Whether you’re going to laugh at gags about alopecia, incest or disabilities is another question, so I’ll let your personal taste be the judge of that. A really stereotypical depiction of a Chinese person as the Genie is pretty disgraceful though.
When they’re good, the jokes are really, really good. Twankey and the Witch riffing on Cher’s Turn Back Time nearly had me busting a gut I was laughing so hard, and there’s a very funny rendition of Twelve Days of Christmas that’s a bit unintentionally Play Goes Wrong – the charm of the performers sees it through though. Also, with the amount of gender-bending you get in your typical panto, a central couple that’s same sex in both actor and character is pretty refreshing. More of this please.
Frederick feels a little half-hearted early on, not great when you need to sell a script of this nature, but he really does pick up. McArthur is as bombastic as you like, his 9-5 entrance winning us over straight away. Jones is going for it, mightily sassy and wicked all over, whilst Briggs gets a lot of laughs out of his one character trait – he’s really stupid. Carter-Simpson is also a lot of fun, getting the opportunity to frequently roll her eyes at the audience. What I have to mention is that this cast has pipes. Whether it’s Jones nailing Defying Gravity, or the sheer Mariah-ness of the All I Want For Christmas finale, all the musical numbers are top notch and superbly performed.
My big question, though, is this: should we excuse shoddiness when it comes to panto? Charming Dick is fairly sloppy, with actors tripping over lines, forgetting their blocking and just flat out breaking character – it does feel a bit like it was chucked together in a couple of days. I would argue that this just adds to its charm, the enjoyment of these moments outweighing the creakiness, but also if you’re paying upwards of fifteen quid a ticket, you could wish more effort was being put in.
It’s a pantomime called Charming Dick, what do you expect? The majority of the jokes are awful and borderline offensive, whilst the production is continuously falling apart at the seams. It’s bloomin’ entertaining though, a right royal knees-up to warm the cockles on these cold nights. Don’t even bother seeing this alone – grab your mates, get the drinks in and blast off those ‘Bah Humbugs’ with some proper festive cheer.
Charming Dick is playing the Cockpit Theatre til December 23.
Photo: David Ovenden