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Dick Whittington at Birmingham Hippodrome - Review

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Freelance journalist with a passion for theatre, the arts, food and books.
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John Barrowman Stars In Christmas Show
Panto time is here again, oh yes it is...and Birmingham Hippodrome has more pressure than most as it proudly boasts having the biggest in the country, but is it the best?

Birmingham Hippodrome panto, Dick Whittington, John Barrowman, Jodie Prenger, The Krankies
Panto time is here again at Birmingham Hippodrome

This year's festive foolery is Dick Whittington with a celebrity line-up of family favourites - TV personality John Barrowman, likeable singer Jodie Prenger, EastEnders tough guy Steve McFadden (aka Phil Mitchell), and some retro cheek from The Krankies.

Most importantly, the panto once again has cheeky chappie Matt Slack at the helm. He's a star feature when it comes to the comedy and his entrance got a bigger cheer than famous names like Barrowman, but then he has made Hippodrome history as the only performer ever to appear in its pantomime for four years running.

He has a skilled and frenetic camaraderie with the audience. Birmingham Hippodrome has hit a winning formula with this Matt Slack partnership and I notice he's already booked for the 2018 panto of Cinderella playing Buttons. He's their secret ingredient that they won't want to lose as his vivaciousness and naughty laugh are contagious.

Birmingham Hippodrome panto, Dick Whittington, John Barrowman, Jodie Prenger, The Krankies
John Barrowman and Jodie Prenger lead a celebrity cast in Dick Whittington

Running until January 29 at Birmingham Hippodrome, audiences follow Dick (Barrowman) as he heads off on an adventure to London to follow his fate and overcome the King Rat with his cat.

Barrowman does have a star quality about him and, like Slack, he is a natural showman who excels at the almost-kitsch big dance numbers. He's used to this kind of silliness - after all, this is the man that carried off dancing with huge Tunnock's Teacakes in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games opening ceremony.

Last year Julian Clary was the king of the double entendres and this year, the jokes are less blue but still lightly risqué from Barrowman.

En-route there's song and dance a plenty with a variety of modern chart hits that Barrowman knocks out like the stage pro that he is. There's even a camp Village People number of song In The Navy with Barrowman donning tiny white shorts as he dances aboard a ship.

Along the madcap journey that often makes little sense, there's a motley crew of characters that Dick meets including the sweet-voiced Jodie Prenger, singing impressively as Fairy Bow Bells, and Steve McFadden bringing an essence of his Phil Mitchell role as the baddie King Rat, cracking his tail like a whip and definitely scarier than last year's slightly more subdued bad guy Marti Pellow.

Birmingham Hippodrome panto, Dick Whittington, John Barrowman, Jodie Prenger, The Krankies
There's nothing like a dame in Dick Whittington

There's also The Krankees - an ageing double act with over 50 years in showbusiness that you think would be very dated. In fact, their relationship with Barrowman strangely works very well and they are an endearing part of the show that feature heavily in the action, maybe too heavily. It would have been nice to see more of talent like McFadden or Prenger maybe.

This production of Dick Whittington is a family adventure following the true tradition of panto - naff pastel backdrops and the usual "it's behind you" jokes - but there is also the razzamatazz of stunning special effects that take it a level higher than the average pantomime.

There's a huge rat in the opening scene, Rudolf the Reindeer flies over the audience and there's a sensational 3D section underwater with sharks and other creatures swimming right into people's faces. It's staggering technology, well ahead of the panto game and these special effects have become something to expect from this annual show by QDOS Entertainment.

Birmingham Hippodrome panto, Dick Whittington, John Barrowman, Jodie Prenger, The Krankies
Steve McFadden is the baddie in Dick Whittington at Birmingham Hippodrome

There's nothing like a dame in a panto and Andrew Ryan fills those size 12 shoes in a series of fluorescent outfits that become more and more ridiculous as the story progresses. They even include one that is in the shape of a Christmas pudding. It's delicious fun helped by Mike Coltman's innovative costume designs.

Michael Harrison directs the show for the seventh year in a row and has managed a fine balance of silliness, drama, musicality and comedy - with lots of local jokes about Birmingham thrown in. Little Jimmy Krankee even appears briefly as Ozzy Osbourne in a very funny moment of the show.

Birmingham Hippodrome panto, Dick Whittington, John Barrowman, Jodie Prenger, The Krankies
Fun and laughter with The Krankies

Once again, Birmingham Hippodrome has created a sensational panto packed with fun and dazzling special effects that will make you feel like Dick Whittington's cat that got the cream.


Dick Whittington
Birmingham Hippodrome
Mon 19 Dec 2016 - Sun 29 Jan 2017

Tickets cost from £15.50 the Birmingham Hippodrome website or by calling 0844 338 5000.

Running time: Approximately 2 hours and 25 minutes including a 20 minute interval. Please note, no under 3s are admitted.

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Why? Spectacular panto in Birmingham
When: Until January 29, 2017
Phone: 0844 338 5000
Where: Birmingham Hippodrome
Cost: From £15.50
Your Comment
Great review, I think this is going to be a popular show!
by Jay Johnson (score: 3|1368) 1737 days ago
Great review! I thought Jimmy Krankie as Ozzy Osbourne was genius - although his/ her impression of Madonna is something I never want to see again!!
by Andy Coleman (score: 1|53) 1741 days ago
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