Who loves Dick? It’s hard not to in the bawdy adult panto from Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper. Dick Whittington: A New Dick in Town, the duo’s 12th, thrives on the pleasurable clash between smart and stupid. There are insanely clever puns, a grab-bag of cultural references (Nicki Minaj, Extinction Rebellion, The Archers) and tireless merry-making with the hero’s name: “The things I’ve done for Dick!”
Our naive but sexually ravenous hero (Jonny Peyton-Hill) has come with his pink-tracksuited pug, Ariana, to seek his fortune in London, where, as someone puts it, “the streets are paved”. He falls in with Alex (Keanu Adolphus Johnson), the cocksure son of an undertaker whose business is struggling. Glistening in his Pearly King cap and waistcoat, Alex flogs knocked-off vaccines and believes himself to be the Spirit of London (“It’s an unpaid position”).
The initial action is set largely in the funeral parlour, which brings echoes of Joe Orton’s Loot as well as multiple innuendo options (“wood”, “stiffs”), but the show really takes flight in the second half when Dick travels to a tropical island. It’s here that Alex and his gaudy, sex-starved mother, Sarah (the sublime Matthew Baldwin), sing a heartfelt duet about their holiday hopes: “We’ll order dinner from an illustrated menu …”
Panto is all about throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. That approach manifests here in the shape of a malfunctioning ice-cream machine, which spurts over Alex’s face. Eight out of 10 gags land, and only one sours the atmosphere: a post-Alec Baldwin shooting line that is too soon and not funny.
There isn’t a weak link in the five-person cast, which also includes Nikki Biddington, channelling Joan Collins as the casually vicious Queen Rat. Special mention should go to Bradley Walwyn in the dual role of the stuffy undertaker and his hedonistic twin brother. Dicking-about reaches new heights during a fraternal face-off in which he gets his lips around both parts at once.
Dick Whittington: A New Dick in Town is at Above the Stag, London, until 16 January