Dick Whittington

Mon 5th – Sat 17th August 2013


Joshua Adcock

at 00:51 on 14th Aug 2013



Panto is rarely a genre that can be considered on equal terms with mainstream theatre or comedy, seldom rising above the trappings of the Christmas time kids’ extravaganza at provincial theatres. 'Dick Whittington' performed by Bristol PantoSoc, mostly, manages to pull it off, by being relentlessly self-aware, not taking itself at all seriously, and blasting us with irreverent student-level wit and daring. And swearing. A lot of swearing.

Playing with the tropes of panto, if not quite turning them on their head, the show at least subverts them gently and puts two fingers up to propriety: case in point, Dick, on falling for the lovely Alice, is unable able to sleep at night, ‘tossing and turning and wanking furiously’ - all delivered straight faced with appropriately comic timing. Similarly, self-consciously atrocious puns abound, as do innuendos which don't at all contain their real meaning. And yet the show manages to avoid being pointlessly crude; it’s always genuinely funny when it does stoop to lewdness.

The show is crammed full of this anything-goes attitude with an almost surrealist bent which recalls some of the work of early Python, including a ‘Lord of the STDs’, and the appearance on-stage of the director, who attempts to censor the show’s swearing and filth, and even tries to recast at one point, not so much breaking the fourth wall as acknowledging that it’s there and giving it a punch in the face. And then swearing at it.

Special mention ought to be made regarding the performance of Alderman Fitzwarren, played by Tom Bridges, whose superbly theatrical acting and egotistical, unpredictable outbursts, along with the enthusiastic delivery of stupidly funny lines such as "you look like a dick. The most sturdy dick I’ve ever clapped eyes on", gets the most out of the character and the script. Similarly brilliant commitment lights up King Rat, played by Matt Watt, and many other small parts deserve applause.

However, the show is not uniformly of high standard; much of the acting was of mixed quality, and the somewhat questionable musical numbers often betray the show’s status as a low-budget student production, and display a surprising level of complacency and lack of wit or originality relative to the rest of the show.

Genuinely funny and original, 'Dick Whittington' taps into the spirit of panto at the same time as getting away with behaving badly. Its literalism and self-referentiality raises it above the status of mere student panto, though it indulges in the guilty pleasures of the genre and charms the audience into going along with it, corny as it might seem; with no illusions about what it is, it revels in its own irreverence.


Hazel Rowland

at 08:33 on 14th Aug 2013



What is immediately clear from the outset is that the cast of ‘Dick Whittington’ are there solely for one purpose: to have fun. But can they put on a show which its audience can equally enjoy? The University of Bristol Pantomime Society’s latest production is for adults only. Although this allows for swearing and cruder jokes, the absence of screaming kids in place of a reserved and mainly middle-aged audience, means getting the audience to participate becomes incredibly difficult.

The show still fits in most pantomime clichés (“oh no he didn’t!” and “he’s behind you!”) with some success, even if the response was more restrained without children. Oli Poole, playing Sarah the pantomime dame, does well to get even a half-hearted response from his mature audience. It is a shame that his costume is not more flamboyant, as the pantomime dame is not nearly as ridiculous as he could have been.

Although the cast mostly pull off the over-enthusiasm required, their singing is underwhelming and they could have done without it. Efforts to sing in harmony should have been left alone, as it makes their being out of tune painfully obvious. However, I was partial to the inclusion of Take That’s ‘I want you back’, so a choice of cheesier music might have made me care less about the singing quality.

Yet showing off the talents of their singers is hardly the point of the production. The show revels in its terrible jokes, and writer Rob Alcott never fails to pack them in at every opportunity. Every fish pun imaginable is squeezed into the scene with the fishmonger (“Oh my cod!” “This store has a sole!”), and dick jokes are appropriately abundant. The only problem with such a tight script is that there is little room for impromptu jokes from the actors. This is a shame, but hardly detrimental to the show especially since the cast is unafraid of being utterly ludicrous. Sudden outburst of comedic rages and lewd innuendos by Tom Bridges as Alderman Fitzwarren are brilliantly calculated. The short appearances of Peter Bagot as Lord of the STDs and later as a bell are hilarious due to their complete irrelevancy. The absurdness of the bell costume, a massive gold triangle which Bagot somehow wears, is so stupid it is impossible not to laugh as he enters.

It is clear that the production has the vital ability to laugh at itself. This is a show that refuses to take itself seriously, but still succeeds in putting together a performance which flows smoothly, and, crucially, is unabashedly funny.


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