“will get nearly anyone clapping and singing along with its glittery charm”
The tale of Dick Whittington and his cat is a Christmas classic with the future Lord Mayor of London’s valiant work of ridding the country of rats by way of his feline friend having delighted theatre-goers for hundreds of years. TuckShop, founded by Christopher D. Clegg and director of their new Christmas show, offers a new interpretation; one that dives headfirst into camp absurdity and is no stranger to a double entendre.
And what better story for a drag reimagining than one with a Dick and a Pussy (Cat) as its stars! The newly opened Dick Whittington at The Phoenix Theatre boasts an incredible cast familiar to any Drag Race fan.
Drag Race UK Season One favourite Cheryl Hole plays the titular role accompanied by Elektra Fence as her loyal feline Cat Slater (“with a C, because it’s different!”) in their mission to defeat the Rat King (Season Three alumnus Choriza May) who threatens to overrun Soho with her rodent minions. The duo meets all sorts of colourful characters on their quest, from Dame Sarah Can’t Cook Won’t Cook (Yshee Black) and her daughter (and inevitable love interest) Alice (River Medway) to the incredible Ophelia Love as ‘Ensemble Member No. 4’ who makes the most of her variety of small roles from safe to angry Yorkshireman.
Drag kings Richard Energy and the smooth-taking Beau Jangles play marital shop owner Daddy Fitzwarren and the Lord Mayor respectively, and the intoxicating Kitty Scott Clause guides the story chaotically along as the Spirit of Soho.
Hole is a wonderful lead and brings the most professionalism to the cast whilst Fence provides a great foil for Hole’s enthusiastic Dick (no pun intended) and keeps the audience engaged with regular call and response. May brings her signature flare to her villainous casting and dazzles in stunning neon green and black outfits and Kitty leaves both the audience and fellow cast mates in stitches at her absurd ad libs (including a Cilla Black impersonation).
Medway is not the most confident on stage, but it is no surprise as she understudies for Australian queen Karen From Finance who tested positive for Covid during the week. Given only two days to learn the script, Medway does surprisingly well and plays up to her lack of rehearsal time in the second half particularly to much laughter.
The audience is treated to a mix of live singing and lip syncs. Stand-out performances are delivered by Jangles with his swing version of Cardi B’s WAP and the outrageously filthy 12 Days of Christmas parody featuring bags of cocaine, dildos and leather whips led by Energy. The show, of course, could not miss the opportunity to host a lip sync for your life in true Ru Paul style and poke fun at Medway and May’s shock double-elimination in Season Three. Indeed, references to the UK series are abound and without at least a base knowledge of the show and each queen’s performance in their respective season, several jokes are lost.
The set is not particularly inspired – a basic backdrop of a London alley with post box – but the panto is limited by musical Come From Away playing on the same stage for much of the week. The set’s simplicity is most notable when the characters board a ship with only paper sailor hats to show their change of scenery, but this is played well for laughs.
More disappointing perhaps was the lighting which was often ill-used – many times, the speaker was shrouded in darkness, the spotlight on some other part of the stage entirely. The sound was also poorly executed at times. The soundtrack – both original songs and covers – is great but backing tracks boom over live singing with Kitty completely drowned out in her opening number as one example. However, as the show leans into its unpolished character, it is hard to be too upset about these oversights.
This new production of Dick Whittington is incredible fun and will get nearly anyone clapping and singing along with its glittery charm. For a night of drag ridiculousness this festive season, this is the show to see.
Elaine Paige (Queen Rat), Ashley Banjo and Diversity (The Sultan and his Entourage), Gary Wilmott (Sarah the Cook) and Charlie Stemp (Dick Whittington) will join the previously announced Julian Clary (Spirit of the Bells), Paul Zerdin (Idle Jack) and Nigel Havers (Captain Nigel) in the line-up for Qdos Entertainment’s London Palladium production of Dick Whittington. Final casting will be announced at a later date. Dick Whittington will run at the London Palladium for five weeks only over the festive season from Saturday 9 December 2017 to Sunday 14 January 2018, with press night on Wednesday 13 December 2017 at 7pm.
Multiple award-winning actor, recording artist, producer and broadcaster Elaine Paige will play Queen Rat. She has previously starred in more West End and Broadway musicals than anyone else of her generation – Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, Grease, Billy, Evita, Cats, Chess, Anything Goes, Piaf, Sunset Boulevard, The King & I, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, The Drowsy Chaperone and Follies. In addition, she was part of the Sir Peter Hall Company for The Misanthrope and Where There’s A Will. Her BBC Radio 2 programme, Elaine Paige on Sunday, is broadcast weekly to over 2.5 million listeners. She continues her extensive live work with a series of UK concerts in October and November of this year. As a recording artist, she has released 22 solo albums as well as featuring on multiple cast albums. Paige was made an OBE in 1995.
Ashley Banjo is a dancer, choreographer and creative director. He is the founder and leader of dance group Diversity who won the third series of ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent in 2009. Aside from the group’s achievements Banjo has since been a judge on all 5 series of Sky 1’s Got To Dance, has had 4 of his own series on Sky 1 and has co-hosted BBC 1’s Can’t Touch This. He now judges on ITV’s new primetime show Dance Dance Dance.
Innovative dance group Diversity took the nation by storm when they won the third series of ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent in 2009. The group have since gone on to achieve worldwide success and have just completed their 7th sell out UK tour Genesis. The group also have countless television performances to their name including 2 primetime ITV shows, Diversity Live and Diversity Presents Steal The Show.
Gary Wilmot’s multiple theatre credits include Big The Musical for the Theatre Royal Plymouth, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the Savoy Theatre and on UK tour, The Pajama Game at the Shaftesbury Theatre, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the London Palladium, Copacabana at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Carmen Jones at the Old Vic, Pirates of Penzance for Regent’s Park Theatre and Me and My Girl at the Aldephi Theatre. His many UK tour credits include End of the Rainbow, Oklahoma!, Oliver!, Chicago and From Hackney to Hollywood. Later this month Wilmot will open at the London Palladium playing Badger in The Wind in the Willows.
Award-winning Charlie Stemp is currently playing the lead role in Half a Sixpence at the Noel Coward Theatre, a role he first performed at Chichester Festival Theatre, which has garnered him both great critical and audience acclaim. His previous theatre credits include Wicked at the Apollo Victoria and the international tour of Mamma Mia!
Dick Whittington is produced by Nick Thomas and Michael Harrison for Qdos Entertainment, the team behind last year’s twice Olivier-nominated London Palladium production of Cinderella, which broke box office records for the highest grossing week in West End theatre history. Dick Whittington is written by Alan McHugh, directed by Michael Harrison, choreographed by Karen Bruce with musical supervision and orchestrations by Gary Hind, lighting by Ben Cracknell, set designs by Ian Westbrook, 3D Creations, costumes by Hugh Durrant, visual special effects by The Twins FX, projection design by Duncan McLean and sound design by Gareth Owen.
Nick Thomas is the founder and Chairman of Qdos Entertainment Group. The business that he started in 1982 is now one of the largest entertainment companies in Europe. Aside from the company’s credentials in pantomime, it is the UK’s second largest regional theatre and concert hall operator, and employs 1,800 full time staff.
Michael Harrison has previously produced over 100 pantomimes for Qdos Entertainment where he is also Managing Director. He has directed 12 consecutive pantomimes at Newcastle Theatre Royal and 7 productions at Birmingham Hippodrome and as a producer in the West End his credits include Gypsy, The Bodyguard and Annie as well as the forthcoming production of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein.
As the world’s biggest pantomime producer, over the past 35 years Qdos Entertainment has established itself as one of the largest entertainment companies in Europe. Over the past three decades the pantomime giant has staged 684 pantomimes and this season expects over two million people will see one of its shows.
The London Palladium, owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Theatres Group, is a venue to which all performers aspire and has hosted more annual Royal Variety Performances than any other theatre. It recently returned to its variety roots and is taking its rightful place as one of the most popular venues for leading musicians, performers, comedians and now Pantomime which returned last December after an absence of nearly 30 years.