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