Why Dick Whittington is Katherine MacAlister’s favourite panto to date

Having seen the last three of Steve Marmion’s Playhouse pantos, I thought I knew what to expect.

After all, he of Soho Theatre and Lyric Hammersmith acclaim is brought triumphantly to Oxford every year to give us pantomime for the 21st century.

Except that sometimes the Oxford subtleties are lost along the way. The Playhouse, after all, is famous for its proper traditional offering, yes without celebrities, but also without too many gaudy gimmicks or tacky additions, and this year that absolutely shone through.

An absolute triumph, Dick Whittington and his Cat was so much fun; jam packed with singing and dancing, ensemble pieces, inspired costumes, laughter and sweets, that when it finished I just wanted to watch it all over again.

So what differed? The casting was absolutely superb, with serious attention given to the calibre of their voices. They could sing like angels, which meant that the ensemble pieces were akin to a West End musical in range and ambition.

Ably led by Adrianna Bertola who played Dick’s love interest Alice, and Fairy Bowbells Rebecca Craven, even head pirate Phillipe Lapin could stop you in your tracks with that voice.

Dick Whittington grew in stature with each note Ricky Oakley delivered, and as for Paul Barnhill - hidden behind the numerous dame’s outfit changes, bawdy jokes and deadpan delivery of Sarah The Cook, was a belter of a voice.

We also had a mesmerising and hugely athletic Alessandro Babalola as Dick’s Cat who bounded and break-danced around the stage, giving the show a real high-energy vibe, a Hamilton style rap, and political nuances provided by chief baddie King Rat, played so confidently by Max Olesker, who was eager to become Mayor of London and then the world, complete with battle bus emblazoned with ‘350 million more groats for CHEESE’.

Even the innuendoes were more enjoyable given the panto’s title, the song One Dick More (based on the Les Mis tune One Day More), still brings a smile to my face.

Hugely enjoyable and the best example of modern day pantomime I can possible envisage, Dick Whittington and his Cat was my favourite Playhouse pantomime in living memory. 5/5

Until Jan 6. oxfordplayhouse.com