Review: The Scouse Dick Whittington at Royal Court ****
Over the last few years, the Royal Court has provided the curtain raiser for Liverpool's Christmas season – there’s no stopping the festive rollercoaster now until the last needle has dropped off the tree and the final mince pie has been scoffed.
And this year’s offering, The Scouse Dick Whittington, certainly kicks off celebrations in crowd-pleasing fashion.
While it's unlikely anything will ever quite top the theatre’s sublime Liverpool Nativity, the 2023 show merrily delivers a feast of verbal and visual gags, to the evident delight of its audience.
Of course, traditionally it’s a show that’s (in)famously ribald and risqué – it's most definitely not panto for kids.
But even with that caveat it’s worth calling Guinness, because this year’s production may have set a new world record for the number of ‘dick’ jokes delivered in a single evening. So many in fact I’d hazard the Royal Court’s ‘gran-ometer’ might explode.
One suspects writer Kevin Fearon and first-time Royal Court director Mark Chatterton (ebullient writer/director of almost 20 Everyman rock ‘n’ roll pantos) may have forged a festive bond of brotherhood, egging each other on to reach ever more giddying heights of double – and frankly barely single – entendres.
But at the risk of sound grinch-like, there’s case to be made for having too much innuendo, smut (and absolute filth), and at times it actually gets in the way of the storytelling.
Above: Andrew Schofield as King Rat. Top: The Scouse Dick Whittington. Photos by Jason Roberts Photography.
Welcome to Liverpool where the streets are paved with chewing gum, there’s a cat killer on the loose and a failed Mayor (Liam Tobin) in the Town Hall.
What’s needed is a new broom, and nice but naïve Garston lad Dick Head (Adam McCoy, making his Royal Court panto debut) could be the answer. But first he’s going to have to vanquish the dastardly King Rat (Andrew Schofield in leather trousers and David Lee Roth wig) and his trio of cheerleading Ratettes.
Cue much, much silliness involving treasure maps, shipwrecks, exotic islands (well, Hilbre), snow-capped mountains, Mozart, puppets, nipple tassels, ‘Mayor Joe’ as Yoda, nods in the direction of some of the theatre’s 2023 hits (think muzzies and Mitteleuropean milkmaids) and a sly send up of Russell Mulcahy’s Vienna video.
It's a veritable cheese dream.
Both the Royal Court’s hard-working repertory cast, and their director, certainly know their onions when it comes to entertaining an audience, and the panto’s preposterous plot is delivered with gusto and amid a slew of polished musical numbers – supported by a great four-strong band on stage – in a wide variety of genres, from pop favourites to musicals to Khachaturian’s Spartacus Suite.
Above: Adam McCoy as Dick and Lindzi Germain as Constanze Mozart. Photo by Jason Roberts Photography.
Newcomer McCoy proves an amiable titular hero who develops a good rapport with the audience, while there are feisty female roles for actors like Lindzi Germain (her Constanze Mozart is lots of fun) and sisters Hayley Sheen (Alice Fitzwarren) and Jamie Clarke (Cat) to sink their teeth into.
Meanwhile designer Olivia du Monceau utilises the Royal Court’s revolve to create a selection box of supporting settings, some with an advent calendar-style backdrop, and Chatterton also uses it to help maintain narrative pace.
Saying that, a rather rangy second half could do with some tightening.
Still, energy and a sense of sheer enjoyment carries the seasonal story along to its traditional all-singing, all-clapping finale. Oh yes it does.