This year’s Lyric Hammersmith pantomime, now in its 10th year, rather hearteningly takes the form of a celebration of the welcome that London has always extended to those who chose to make it their home.
Instigated by Sean Holmes when he took over as artistic director, the Lyric panto has always mixed the traditional with the alternative. Joel Horwood, Tom Wells and Malcolm Lloyd Malcolm have all supplied scripts over the years and the Lyric has always favoured musical theatre chops over celebrity casting, placing an emphasis on community at its heart.
The last couple of years have featured wonderful show-stealing turns from Vikki Stone as a dastardly baddie but in comedian Cariad Lloyd and director Jude Christian’s current offering the real enemy is the prospect of debt and ever-increasing rent – that and people who aren’t nice to one another on the underground.
Lloyd and Christian have upped the smut factor a little on previous years – if there’s an opportunity to insert a Dick joke, they seize it firmly with both hands – and thrown in a few more topical references, to snap elections and, inevitably, Brexit – but the formula remains largely unchanged.
Young Dick (the endearing Luke Latchman) a good-natured lad from Wales with dubious taste in shoes, arrives in London hoping to make his fortune. Having been fleeced of most of his money and worldly goods, he’s befriended by a smooth Tom Cat (Keziah Joseph) and taken in by Mrs Fitzwarren (Carl Mullaney, a very game dame) proprietress of the Over Easy Cafe. He becomes the victim of the villainous scheme of the wicked Queen Rat (Sarah Louise Young), who wants to be Mayor, but help comes in the form of Josie Jacobs as Bow Belles, the spirit of London.
There are colourful sets and elaborate costumes by Jean Chan – Mrs Fitzwarren sports a full English number boasting both a fried egg and an avocado – and slickly choreographed routines. There’s a Greatest Showman opener, an unexpected but very enjoyable rendition of Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart that showcases’ Jacobs’ soaring vocals, and a chance for the Lyric Hammersmith’s young company to show off their skills. A duet between Jacobs and Young, who also has a cracking voice, is another highlight.
While some sequences are tight, others are saggy. The slop scene, featuring yet more avocado, is slightly half hearted and some of the gags feel tonally misjudged – some of the lines about loving Dick would not feel out of place emanating from Julian Clary’s lips at the Palladium panto – this is tempered by a real sense of warmth and affection for both London and for pantomime’s inclusivity, for its power to enchant, unite and uplift an audience at the end of a turbulent year.