Theatre review - Dick Whittington, Manchester Opera House

The Krankies in Dick Whittington

The Krankies in Dick Whittington - Credit: Archant

The traditional Christmas pantomime at Manchester Opera House is a much loved annual event for all the family…and this one is a corker

John Barrowman as Dick Whittington and his unfeasably tigt pants

John Barrowman as Dick Whittington and his unfeasably tigt pants - Credit: Archant

Let me get one thing straight before I go on: Dick Whittington, this season’s pantomime offering from Manchester Opera House, is a hilarious, rib-achingly funny show that will have your children howling with laughter – and you too.

I just wanted to get that out there before I say…but it’s not really a pantomime, not as we know them. I don’t think I nodded off (impossible, to be honest, I was too busy laughing) but there was no ‘he’s behind you’ slapstick moment, and no ‘Oh yes it is’ exchange with the audience. There’s no crazy Dame and the very camp Manc Cat seemed somewhat of an irrelevance. There was also a huge gap in the storyline.


none - Credit: Archant

I am still unsure about why the story moves to a ship, just quite what the whole shipwreck bit was about and, when Bow Bells told Dick he was doing a great job as he’d already cleared all the rats out of London, I had to ask myself when, and how did we miss that bit?! And Morocco? Huh? The younger audience members don’t care though, as they live in the moment and love every second of it.

It’s true to say I left the theatre last night with a slight sense of wondering what had just happened. I know I laughed like a drain, as did my son, throughout. We laughed at the same things and at different things – luckily, as any number of the jokes sail so close to the wind they could be captained by Ben Ainsley.

John Barrowman as Dick Whittington and Jimmy Krankie

John Barrowman as Dick Whittington and Jimmy Krankie - Credit: Archant

To be honest, I am not sure if I was laughing because the jokes were funny, or because more than a few were terribly out of place in what essentially is a children’s show. Moments of severe discomfort made it impossible to look at my son, even as I gasped out a laugh, which is part of the joy of panto I think. Regardless, the rollicking, rolling, non-stop dazzling pace of the jokes keeps it all moving so fast you haven’t time to really absorb it.

John Barrowman, possibly the oldest Panto hero there ever was, is absolutely brilliant. He’s one of those triple threat types who can act, dance and sing brilliantly and has the charm and charisma to get the audience eating out of his hand within moments of his first appearance. Whipping off his trousers to reveal an eye-wateringly tight pair of purple velvet pants ever witnessed outside of a glam rock concert was a good way to start, as the audience laughed and cheered their appreciation. I could just wish he’d remembered his audience should be given more of the BBC One prime time Saturday evening TV show treatment and toned the rest of it down a little.

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The greatest revelation for me was just how brilliant The Krankies are. I remember the Crackerjack days, and even then thinking the whole set-up a little odd/off, but that was the 80’s for you. Today the jokes still flow thick and fast, though the double entrendres aren’t quite so double as you might like. Their energy and sheer commitment to their parts deserves some serious kudos however. I wonder a little if it’s an age thing? Now in their 70s (though you wouldn’t know it, as you witness Wee Jimmy being thrown around the stage by both her husband and by Barrowman) they do come from a time when blue was the colour for comedians. Zac was delighted by them however, though a couple of the jokes did initiate a puzzled face and sideways glance at his mother…

All in all it’s a cracking show. Judging by the reactions of the children in the audience the aspect that might bother the parents sail straight over their heads – though you might have tweens and young teens asking questions. The core cast of Barrowman and the Krankies throw everything they have into it and the supporting cast is excellent.

The ensemble dance scenes are dazzling, the singing superb and the set is quite extraordinary. Oh, and there’s an underwater 3D bit that has the whole theatre roaring.

This is a show that has toured, with Barrowman and The Krankies in place, for several seasons now and I wonder if it is that that has led to the issues I have noted. Have scenes been dropped to give us more of their stuff. Have their jokes gotten incrementally ruder without them noticing the progress into choppy waters? They clearly work together brilliantly, but this familiarity – the sense that they’re in on a joke that we’re not – brings I think its own issues.

Dick Whittington plays at Manchester Opera House till January 7.

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