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Last chance to see Dick

Nicola Mostyn is knackered after watching a hyper pop panto of Dick Whittington

Published on January 3rd 2008.

Last chance to see Dick

Ah, Darren Day. Darren, Darren, Darren. Has it comes to this? Are you so universally despised by the general public due to your sexual peccadilloes and crazy addiction to getting engaged that you, whose career was launched playing Joseph, are now a shoo-in for the role of King Rat? Well, yes. Undoubtedly. And, by God, you’re brilliant!

Admittedly as an adult, watching Chesney Hawkes sing ‘The One and Only’ in a pair of voluminous pantaloons did feel rather like an acid flashback.

Well, okay, brilliant may be taking things a little too far but from the moment Darren Day takes to the stage in his bizarre Vegas-era Elvis leather jumpsuit-cum-rat-costume he has the audience in the palm of his hand. Claw. Whatever.

It can’t hurt that Day is well practised in the art of being reviled by the masses. He seems to have great fun egging on the pint-sized audience, encouraging the boos, and revelling in the antipathy of the crowd whilst simultaneously charming the socks off them. We can only assume he used the same technique on Anna Friel, Isla Fisher, Suzanne Shaw and co. Only he didn’t stop at the socks.

Whilst Day cavorts around the stage spouting rhyming couplets and displaying his flirting skills in a love-hate spark with Fairy Bowbells (aka real life wife Stephanie Dooley) he shows that he is not just a pretty face/sex-addict by slipping into impersonations of Ali G, Jonathan Ross and Dr Evil for no apparent reason, which is freaky and confusing but oddly enjoyable.

Next to that, Chesney Hawkes in the lead role of Dick Whittington seems a bit limp. But then, he was a bit limp as Chesney Hawkes so we mustn’t blame him too much and if he does seem a charisma-free zone compared to King (love) Rat, Hawkes’ clean-cut image and nice-boy vibe is well suited to the role of Dick. More importantly his pop credentials are a necessity for The Lowry’s panto USP: the inclusion of chart songs in their otherwise very traditional festive shows.

It’s a bright idea, mixing the old with the new. As the show cracks on at a furious pace it crams all the best bits of old-fashioned pantomime into its running time. There’s the saucy dame (the amusing Jamie Greer), the beautiful girl Dick wants to marry, (Alice, played by Tara Wells), people dressed as animals (Day’s King Rat and Karen West as Dick’s cat) not to mention the age-old tradition of getting hundreds of children to shout as loud as their larynxes will allow and working them into a frothing frenzy by chucking sweets at them.

And with this focus on the traditions of panto, the music brings the whole thing up to date. Well, sort of. Admittedly as an adult, watching Chesney Hawkes sing ‘The One and Only’ in a pair of voluminous pantaloons did feel rather like an acid flashback and I’m pretty sure the kids have never heard of ‘Buddy’s Song’, but the wisdom of including pop tunes soon became apparent as Alice launched into a version of Leona Lewis’ ‘Bleeding Love’ and the entire theatre erupted into a quite frightening mass infant sing-along, like some sort of dystopian future ruled by Minipops.

For the adults there are just about enough topical gags and double entendres to keep you from tipping into a nervous breakdown, particularly from Captain Cuttle played with high spirits by local comedian John Bishop. But really, this particular festive show is aimed squarely at the kids, and if this frantic production doesn’t get rid of their post-Christmas chocolate-induced hyperactivity, then frankly nothing will.

Dick Wittington, until Sun Jan 6, £14-£24, The Lowry, Pier 8, Salford Quays, M50 3AZ. 0870 787 5780 www.thelowry.com

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