Birmingham Hippodrome's pantomime this year is certainly a spectacle. With giant rats and reindeer, fantastic 3D special effects and a host of celebrities, it aims to please.
John Barrowman returns to the Birmingham theatre in the role of Dick Whittington. An old hand at panto these days, he has playing to the audience down to a tee with bucket loads of charm, plenty of banter and just a little bit of naughty humour.
Steve McFadden swaps being an EastEnders hard guy for the role of the evil King Rat and does so with plenty of aplomb – ensuring he's the target of the audience boos.
Matt Slack is now a regular at the Hippodrome pantomime and it's easy to see why Birmimgham audiences have taken him to their hearts. He's super rapid with the jokes and easily anchors a scene – even taking on the local children for a sing-a-long. Some of the funniest moments of the show are his double act with panto dame Sarah, played by Andrew Ryan, as they throw the lines back and forth between them like tennis balls.
Comedy also comes in the shape of The Krankies although some of their jokes are lost on the younger members of the audience who seem a little bemused by the idea of a woman the age of their grandma dressed as a schoolboy. There is a somewhat incongruous scene in which Janette Krankie does her own version of a Madonna song which sits awkwardly in a family show.
Jodie Prenger, who has built up a solid musical theatre career after winning the television talent show I'd Do Anything, is under-used as Fairy Bow Bells while Danielle Hope's Alice is a character given hardly any development or stage time at all.
The cast gels well with plenty of interplay and apparent ad-libbing. An underwater "12 Days of Christmas" is zany and fun – with plenty of opportunities for additional jokes and humour.
This Dick Whittington plays for laughs and audience interaction with plot development second fiddle to music, dancing and comedy. Pre-show publicity does warn the show has "the odd naughty joke for grown-up laughter" and it is sprinkled with adult humour which parents will be hoping their children don't pick up on. But the Birmingham panto always delivers on special effects and that's certainly the case this year.
From the opening scenes in which a giant rat comes into the auditorium from the stage, the Qdos production is peppered with imaginative and dramatic effects. Dick Whittington is whisked away on a huge sleigh pulled by none other than Rudolph with a very shiny red nose and an underwater scene is packed with 3D action. Thanks to the 3D glasses, one moment the audience is dodging cannon balls and the next it's fighting off a giant octopus or being stalked by a shark.
It's these moments which make the show memorable and ensure it remains a firm fixture on the Birmingham calendar.