Dick Whittington and His Cat -- Theater Review

A traditional English pantomime - boisterous, risqué and great fun.

LONDON -- Pantomime season is in full swing across the U.K. with big names such as Joan Collins, David Hasselhoff, Pamela Anderson and Jimmy Osmond joining in knockabout productions that feature saucy gags, cross-dressing and audience participation. Even the Lyric Hammersmith, which last month put on the post-apocalyptic chiller "Blasted" has let down its hair and put on a festive costume with "Dick Whittington and His Cat."

QI partners Stephen Fry and Alan Davies (Jonathan Creek) lend their familiar names and voices to the fun in pre-recorded narrative and jokes delivered by two giant bells named Bow and Bells on either side of the stage.

As usual in a pantomime, it’s the Grande Dame who steals the show and this time it’s Shaun Prendergast as the very round and hairy Sarah the Cook, who is as proud of her bosom as she is of her baked goods. Singing, clowning and mugging, Prendergast gets the audience going with good-natured insults and bawdy jokes.

A talented and energetic cast deliver the traditional tale of how the first Lord Mayor of London found fame and fortune dealing with rascally rats out to take over the capital’s crumb business by running its most famous bakery.

The songs add ribaldry to numbers from Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys, Jay-Z and Coldplay, and there’s a lively parody of TV’s Glee. Entendres, double and otherwise, play on the title character’s first name and variations on the word cat, but they’re all delivered with open-faced jollity in panto tradition.

It helps that serious players are involved with Steven Webb both knowing and shy as the clean-cut Whittington from Gloucestercestershire and Paul J. Medford as his street-smart feline. It’s the cat that leaves on one side of the stage a present from Bow and Bells that will get our hero of a serious scrape, and instructs audience members to yell whenever someone threatens to steal it, “It’s not your present!” which they do with great enthusiasm.

Rosalind James adds a strong voice to her good looks and perky manner as the love interest and Kulvinder Ghir does double comic duty as her anxious father and an island prince who needs the bakery’s special cakes to keep his rotund figure.

Simon Kunz manages to be both scary and a bit vulnerable as a suitably hideous King Rat while Nathan Byron delivers blithe one-liners as a rat named Scaramouche that is called upon inevitably to dance the fandango.

Directed by Steve Marmion, who conceived the production, and written by Joe Horwood and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, the Lyric’s show keeps English panto going at full steam.

Venue: Lyric Hammersmith, London (Through Jan. 8)
Cast: Shaun Prendergast, Steven Webb, Paul J. Medford, Rosalind James, Kulvinder Ghir, Simon Kunz, Nathan Byron
Writers: Joel Horwood, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm
Director: Steve Marmion
Set and costume designer: Tom Scott
Lighting designer: David Holmes
Music: Tom Mills
Sound designer: Nick Manning
Choreographer: Lainie Baird