Reviewed by Rachel Cassey-Holland
Originally having planned to run with Robin Hood for their 2019 panto, Bristol Hippodrome decided to switch to Dick Whittington early in 2019 as they had managed to acquire the London Palladium’s set. Leading with a different story could have been a costly mistake as we overheard many saying they didn’t know the story of Dick Whittington while we took our seats for the show, but they need not have worried.
Bristol’s Hippodrome is very familiar with putting on an entertaining show for all ages, after all it has been doing so since it opened in 1912. Designed by the renowned theatre architect Frank Matcham, the Hippodrome’s first show was a Variety spectacular featuring stunning water effects and diving horses. It was on this stage that it all started for Cary Grant who started his career as a Call Boy, later starring as part of an acrobatic troupe before heading to America to become one of Hollywood’s greatest actors.
For those not familiar with the story of Dick Whittington, he was given the task of ridding London of its serious rat problem and defeating Queen Rat in the process. In a classic rags-to-riches storyline Dick goes from having nothing to finding somewhere to work, somewhere to live and, of course, someone to love.
Casting is very well executed with only minor issues relating to some characters who could have played more of a prominent role in the show. Some of this could have been down to having such a well-established and talented old-hand in Shane Richie playing Dick, but sometimes the script let the show down a little rather than anything the performers were doing. Richie was in his element playing the lead role and quickly formed a warm rapport with the audience… of course the abundance of “Dick” jokes made it easy for him to get the adults in the audience laughing from the off. There was natural chemistry too between Dick and Captain Cockles, played by Peter Piper especially in the funny and well written “She sells sea shells” type tongue twister and the hilarious 12 days of Christmas tribute showstopper towards the end.
Other notables included a fantastic performance from CBeebies favourite, Jennie Dale, as Queen Rat who had the children booing and hissing on sight. Slightly disappointingly the Panto Dame, Sarah the Cook, (played by David O’Reilly) often didn’t have the best lines or gags, not normally something you find in the panto world. Alice Fitzwarren (played by Christine Tucker), who was Dick’s love interest, also suffered from a lack of limelight at times, but both absolutely came into their own in the large showstoppers.
One of the things you most expect from a pantomime in the Hippodrome are some fantastical sets and costumes as well as amazing special effects and this year’s production did not disappoint on any of those fronts. Of particular note was the giant and, quite frankly, terrifying Rat Overlord, who appeared at the beginning of the show, and the London Bus, which most spectacularly carried Dick Whittington up and out over the audience. This is where the Hippodrome always seems to deliver without fail.
At the end of the show Shane Richie invited three small children up on stage and had great fun interviewing them, which was a fitting end to a very highly polished and overall enjoyable production of Dick Whittington.
Dick Whittington is running at the Bristol Hippodrome from Sat 7 Dec 2019 – Sun 5 Jan 2020. I would recommend for a fun family Christmas treat.
Thank you for the wonderful opportunity.
Tickets cost from £13 (plus £3.65 transaction fee).
Dick Whittington is at the Bristol Hippodrome from 7 December 2019 to 5 January 2020, for more information or to book tickets visit www.atgtickets.com/bristol or call the box office on 0844 871 3012.
Bristol Hippodrome, St Augustine’s Parade, Bristol, BS1 4UZ | 0844 871 3012