Hurrah! It’s Panto season again; time for everyone to stop pretending that theatre is a serious art genre, and get stuck into some good old fashioned “He’s Behind You!” Last Friday I headed off to the Lyric with my heckling hat firmly on my head, looking forward to a raucously festive evening of boos, hisses and transvestitism. And this is exactly what I got – and some.
The production’s strongest point lies in the fact that director, Stephen Marmion, has not shyed away from the classic pantomime form. Instead he has merely tweaked it in order to appeal to a younger generation of theatregoers. All the recognisable characters are present and correct, The Cat is cocky, the evil villain is salacious and Widow Twanky is a busty bombshell. However they have been updated and re-styled in order to make this very traditional show feel both relevant and contemporary.
Paul J Medford as The Cat is effortlessly cool. Strutting onto the stage in a furry, all in one costume, he addresses the crowd with a bellowing “wha’Gwan boys and girls?” before launching into a series of innuendos, (mainly involving cat-nip and “pussies”) which happily sail over the heads of the younger audience members. His engagement with the crowd gives the show a brilliant energy, which is maintained throughout.
Medford’s performance is nicely offset by his companion Steven Webb, who plays the part of Dick Whittington with enough bright-eyed sincerity to put the cast of Oliver! to shame. The wonderful thing about pantomime is that it gives the theatre the chance to laugh at itself; and Webb, as he gazes dramatically into the middle distance and sings in a high falsetto about the joys of love, achieves this parody with hilarious relish.
Steven Fry and Alan Davies provide the recorded voices of the two narrators, whose disparaging quips – “I’m sure this wasn’t in the original script…” – keep the narrative together and gild the show with a bit of celebrity sparkle.
With a cast full of talented singers, a sound track of chart topping songs and a Dame that would put Lady Gaga to shame; Dick Whittington and his Cat is the hottest, hippest Panto this Christmas. The Lyric has once again got it spot on.
Dick Whittington and his Cat is playing at the Lyric Theatre until 8th January 2011. Tickets can be brought through the Lyric’s website.