Ricky Whittington: Panto For People Who Hate Panto

ricky-whittington-richard-davenport-8

“You know, I hate panto.”

“What?” I replied, knowing we were now about 30 steps away from walking into the theatre.

“I hate panto. The only reason I’m here is that I love you, but it’s pretty unbearable,” my lovely wife said to me.

Shit. 

Here’s the thing about my gal Shamaine, she’s up for an adventure. And usually, she doesn’t mind me dragging her along to insane supper clubs in underground tunnels or micro pig farms or naked restaurants or janky Hong Kong amusement parks. But there are also some things she really will not do: Skydiving, slapstick comedy, nights out with only alcohol and no food and so on. And in our years of dating, being fiancéd and now married, I’m pretty good at knowing what the new Mrs. Watson-Shebar will be into.

But every once and a while, I still learn something new about her. Like this: She haaaaaaates panto.

And here I was, with two tickets to panto.

ricky-whittington-richard-davenport-4Now, as an American, even after living in London for close to five years, I still don’t think I truly understand English pantomime. It’s overly ridiculous, made for children but forced upon adults and the ones I’ve been too have been really nothing but a waste of time. And I say it might have been better if I had grown up with it, but Shamaine is a born and raised Londoner and it clearly didn’t win any awards with her either.

For those reading located outside of the UK and really have no idea what panto is, here’s a pretty good video to explain it:

However, there was a reason I had these tickets to this panto, and that’s because it wasn’t normal panto. We were seeing Ricky Whittington And His Cat. (It’s tagline: “London’s F*cked, A Panto For Our Times.”) This is the classic tale of Dick Whittington, a man who came to London with his cat and became mayor, but gave it a modern twist, made straight for a jaded millennial crowd with top-notch comedians. And that sounded like a fun night out.

And truthfully: It was. This is panto for people who hate panto and both Shamaine and I loved every minute.

THE PLAY

To be honest, I didn’t think I was going to blog about Ricky. I had received press tickets and figured I’d cover it through my Twitter and Instagram, do one last panto before sadly leaving the country and that would be that.

This was such a surprise and delight that I didn’t stop laughing the entire time, and walked out quoting lines and singing the damn songs. Oh those damn songs, so good.

ricky-whittington-richard-davenport-1Here, the classic elements on panto still exist: the boy hero played by a girl, the brassy Dame played by a man, a crooked villain, audience callbacks and so on. But everything gets flipped upside down, turned around and then roundhouse kicked to the face a little bit. There are no “Booooos” and “Awwwws” here. Instead, you curse the villain with chanted, “Murp! Murp! Murp!” and add to the sad scenes with a tender, “Pleeeeeshb.”

The set is hand drawn, with minimal black-and-white cartoon props and a digital screen projecting everything from the callback lines to the scenes of sad overpriced London, where the only real winner is the “Closing Down” signmaker.

Also, in case you aren’t yet convinced, there’s a saxophone-playing Time Cop from the future who’s riding his bicycle/lover to modern day in order to save the day. Because that’s a thing that happens.

THE HUMOUR

ricky-whittington-richard-davenport-10This show is funny. Killing it funny. Side hurting funny. It’s so very good.

Written by members of Sheeps, the show is quick and quick-witted. And the cast of comedians takes the whole evening just seriously enough to give humour to the absurd situations, but are clearly having a damn blast throughout entire ride, starting with Charlotte Ritchie (of Fresh Meat and Call the Midwife) as the lead and working down.

The two standouts amongst a crowd of true talent is David Elms, who plays panto dame Pig Pam, a mad northerner with a love of low-cut sequized dresses, off-key singing and the men in the audience, and scene-stealer and moneygrabber Rob Carter as villan King Rat, who slinked and slimed his away across the stage in a state of villanry so cartoonish, it would make Dick Dastardly proud.

ricky-whittington-richard-davenport-3Throughout the show, there are also a series of choerographed songs and dances, which either are jaw-dropping funny or, sadly, rather bland and joke-free, seeming to be there only to fill time.

However, when they killed, they kill d. In in the middle of the show, there’s a spectacular number about the nonsense words you can say to make the world better (think “Hakuna Matata” or a little Poppins’ “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”) I wish I had a recorded version, as I’d send that one out to friends when life gets them down

Really though, if there’s one thing that doesn’t work, just wait a second, and the next joke ricochets faster than you can laugh, and it literally hurts just trying to keep up.

The Final Review

ricky-whittington-richard-davenport-5If you like panto, you’ll love this. Go.

If you hate panto, go anyway. It’s different enough to both celebrate and mock all the parts of panto you hate. By being there, you’ll feel good scewering something that other people love while, also, weirdly, being part of that same annual tradition.

And if that isn’t what Christmas is all about then, I don’t know what is.

Ricky Whittington & His Cat is at the New Diorama Theatre, 15-16 Triton Street, Regents Place, NW1 3BF, until January 7. You can purchase tickets here

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