Steve Marmion’s pantomime brings a taste of London to the Oxford Playhouse stage in his take on Dick Whittington and His Cat. There’s topical comedy about the floppy-haired former mayor of London and a streetwise Cat (played with elan by Alessandro Babalola), who raps and breakdances.
Max Olesker gives a deliciously villainous performance as the urbane King Rat, who schemes to overrun Mr Fitzwarren’s bakery and turn it into a chain of Rat-a-mangers, before launching his mayoral campaign. Paul Barnhill delivers a rich vocal performance and plenty of bread-related puns as the dame, Sarah the Cook, although she jostles for space in a story overcrowded with characters.
Some of the funniest moments, for the adults in the audience at least, occur in the new lyrics Marmion and Bobby Goulder give to familiar pop songs. The rats’ dance number to Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance’ (‘We’re your bad rodents’) is an inspired bit of comic writing.
Other songs, including a whole-cast rendition of ‘One Day More’ and the opening number of Hamilton, seem shoehorned in. The intricate lyrics can also be hard to hear over the music due to the sound mixing.
Although an implausible plot is standard for pantomime, the second half of Marmion’s Dick Whittington is chaotic and confusing. The gang get shipwrecked and are rescued by Doctor Who, only to be imprisoned by Queen Zigazig-ah on a desert island. The excursion does give occasion for a spectacular UV-lit underwater scene and an extended Spice Girls medley.