Review: Dick Whittington (Opera House, Manchester)

GUest REviewer: Ciaran Ward
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

From the initial curtain rise, the Manchester Opera House’s production of Dick Whittington had all the makings of a classic pantomime. With colourful costumes and rudimentary set designs (designed by Mike Coltman and Ian Westbrook/3D Creations, respectively), along with several esteemed faces from the entertainment industry in starring roles (Doctor Who star John Barrowman, and veteran comedians The Krankies), everything seemed to align with the conventions of the medium. However, a couple of scenes into the play, what could have been a fantastic show for children soon transformed into a smutty production for the attention of adults, with a series of sexual innuendos plaguing the subsequent dialogue for the remaining two hours.

 Whilst double entendres are a notable feature of pantomimes, anything filtered for the understanding of adults in this production became thinly-veiled upon the addition of lewd gestures, often on the part of Barrowman or Jimmy Krankie. What may have served as a form of entertainment in the 1980s, with The Krankies’ double act as a father and son, quickly developed into an uncomfortable experience for anyone with young children, as many references to their marital relations slipped out during moments when real-life husband and wife Ian and Janette Trough broke character.

 Despite disregarding its younger audiences with its adult content, the production redeemed itself through remaining fundamentally entertaining. Slapstick elements were rife in various scenes – particularly during a lyrically updated rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas, where the main characters each threw away items of rubbish from under the sea whilst playfully hitting each other with the objects. An abundance of pyrotechnics (produced by Le Maitre) and a 3D video projection (supplied by Blue-i Technology Ltd) composed a greater visual aesthetic, forming the enchanting aspects of the show and conveying the wonder of the theatre for the younger audiences.

 The entertainment factor of the show, heightened by Tommy the Tabby Cat’s (portrayed by Ryan Kayode) Mancunian accent and Whittington’s inability to comprehend it, is sadly compromised by several cultural references to the real world. Allusions to Barrowman having had plastic surgery, and the listing of his television credits spanning from Torchwood to Arrow, instead of being apt improvisations, ultimately detract from the relatively undiscernible plot. Though Barrowman’s remains a great performer, exemplified through his frequent musical solos, his stage presence and charisma does little to rectify the transgressions the pantomime makes throughout its runtime.

-Ciaran Ward

Dick Whittington runs at Manchester’s Opera House until 7th January 2018.

REVIEW – Top Hat (Manchester Opera House)

© 2015 Top Hat On Stage Ltd
© 2015 Top Hat On Stage Ltd
Date: 10 February 2015
Upstaged Rating: 

Top Hat transports us back to the golden age of Hollywood, it is all about the glitz and glamour, a romantic narrative steeped in the fast screwball comedy genre of 1930’s America. It is a dance extravaganza with a showcase of Irving Berlin’s show tunes providing the perfect accompaniment to a night of precision tap dancing and Bill Deamer’s Olivier Award winning choreography.

For those who are not familiar, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers starred in the 1935 original movie of the same name – the plot is uncomplicated and quite farcical and tells the story of Jerry Travers (Alan Burkitt), a Broadway dancer, who falls for the stunning Dale Tremont (Charlotte Gooch). However, the course of love and romance never did run smooth and his failed attempts to woo her result in hilarious misunderstandings and mistaken identities. The simple but well-made plot is loaded with humour which the cast deliver with such impeccable timing and pace – once you let yourself get swept up with the sentiment and moral sensibility of the 1930’s, the comedy is an absolute delight.

Alan Burkitt’s dancing is technically flawless and perfectly synced as he tap dances with his silhouette in the hotel room above where Dale is trying to sleep. Charlotte Gooch impresses as the leading lady, a real triple threat – her charming stage presence and comic timing make her as mesmorising an actor as she is a singer and dancer.

Top Hat really feels as if it was made for the stage, the second act really thrives in front of a live audience, there is a sense of spontaneity from fashion designer Alberto (Sebastian Torkia)who is also competing  for Dale’s affection. Horace (Clive Hayward) and Madge Hardwick (Rebecca Thornhill) and eccentric valet Biggs (John Conroy) all impress also during the denouement – with well-paced lines and no use of a blackout, the humour reaches a crescendo which the audience love. Top Hat is not just any champagne – it is a pink champagne of the finest quality.

The show boasts over 200 different costumes, designed by the award winning Jon Morrell; the beautiful and functional art deco set design by Hildegard Bechtler’s is also a highlight. Top Hat is pure gold entertainment, clean and elegant fun – that will leave you toe tapping and singing ‘Cheek to Cheek’ all the way home.

-Kristy Stott