Reviewed – 12th December 2021
“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.
Reviewed by Flora Doble
Photography by Corinne Cumming
Phoenix Theatre until 9th January
(Tuesdays and Sundays only)
Previously reviewed by Flora this year: