Dick Whittington at the Lyric Hammersmith is just the smutty, heart-warming silliness you need to kick off the festive season.
Like all good panto, it works on two levels, with wholesome fun for children and utter filth for adults.
In writer-director Jude Christian’s production Dick Whittington (Luke Latchman), a good-natured simpleton from Cardiff, somehow bumbles into running for the London mayoralty. Alas, a deliciously malignant rat-queen wants to steal the elections and turn all London’s sweet shops into cheesemongers.
There is an air of enthusiastic amateurism, but it’s impossible not to warm to a show so pathologically committed to appalling puns that it celebrates the tenth anniversary of the same recycled gag, or which contorts itself horribly so that it can include a tenuous gag about a missile defence system that nobody’s thought about since Nick Clegg was in government.
It also taps into the humour of internet meme culture, quoting some of the greatest hits of recent years. A particular highpoint occurs when a Croc-wearing Dick first encounters the Cat who deploys the “What are those!?” ugly footwear meme (made popular in Marvel’s Black Panther) to riotous effect. Still, nothing can compare to the sheer relentlessness of the Dick jokes, which slam into you hard and fast, and just keep coming and coming. When the female lead snapped, “Mum! I’m not obsessed with Dick!” it nearly brought down the house.
There’s a hell of a lot to like here. Jodie Jacobs as Bow Bells and Sarah-Louise Young as Queen Rat come from musical theatre and cabaret, and their talent shines through in their singing. A parody of the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York”, in which they reminisce about their past friendship, is a delight, topped only by Queen Rat’s Beyoncé pastiche, “Who Run the World (Rats)”.
But as is so often the case, the real star of the panto is the dame. Carl Mullaney’s Sarah Fitzwarren looks as if she’s been parachuted in from Ru-Paul’s Drag Race and is equally ribald. His mastery of innuendo is unquestionable. For instance, when Sarah appears, dressed in a cream-filled, cherry-topped, layer cake, she explains that it’s made from Bake Off leftovers, and that when Paul gave her his famous Hollywood handshake, he left her covered in frosting. She never lets up, and you wouldn’t want her to.
Dick Whittington is a full-throated defence of the kind of multicultural, inclusive London that we proudly presented to the world in the Olympic opening ceremony back in 2012 and rather took for granted, but which has been called into question since the Brexit vote.
The panto tackles the rising threat of intolerance, in the form of the Alt-Rat movement, which Bow Bells counters by saying, “No matter where you’re from, if you live here, you’re one of us.” A fine sentiment in this season of peace on earth and good will to all men, and women, and gender non-binary individuals.