What better way to start a new year of theatre-going than the Mercury's marvellous pantomime ? Janice Dunn's Dick Whittington and the Pi-rats of the Caribbean is the latest in a long tradition of home-grown Christmas shows, and had all their strengths in spades.
The credit crunch was duly mentioned, but there was no hint of recession about this spectacular show. The bright, witty design had moving bells stage right, and a revolving dais for Roger Delves-Broughton's King Rat. A slightly malevolent moggy stares down from the top of the arch.
Dick's London has the Gherkin as well as his galleon. There are cute kids, and even two chorus boys in the Lionel Blair tradition.
Though this Whittington never gets to be Lord Mayor, preferring a life of lotus eating on his tropical island, tradition is not lost – we get to sing the silly song, there's a ghost routine as enthusiastic as any I've seen. Youngsters hurl a hail of foam balls at the baddies, there's a host of quick cultural references, and a never-ending stream of ancient panto jokes, delivered with genuine relish by Tim Treslove's superb Sarah the Cook.
Butch, busty and cheeky, he engaged all sectors of the audience with consummate ease. Other Mercury rep regulars were Christine Absalom as Fitzie, and a hard-working pair of merchant bankers from Ignatius Anthony and David Tarkenter. Clare Humphreys was a real London Bow Bells – a fairy in the Donna Noble mould.
The principal boy did slap a thigh, but was played by a likeable Ian Kendall – his Alice was excellently sung by Roxanne Saili. Tommy the Seoul cat was a dapper Jay Lim, quick-witted and physical.
In the pit, Graham Du-Fresne seemed really happy to be guiding band and players through all sorts of music from Lionel Bart to last year's charts.
Ian Kendall (Dick Whittington) and Jay Lim (Tommy cat) Photo: Robert Day