Comically dressed as Boris Johnson, impressionist Aaron James struts across the Grand’s slightly-canted boards, promising the audience he’s “going to fix this mess”.

He’s talking, it transpires, about his hair.


It’s a fun little moment, and one of several beats in the show that make good use of James’ innate skill as a mimic, but is perhaps most conspicuous in being one of the very few external, political or pop cultural references.

There’s a palpable sense that Dick Whittington - this year’s offering from the ever-reliable union of the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre and industry-leaders, QDOS pantomime - is all about bringing things back to the panto basics.

There’s an extended sequence with a sock puppet snake. James delivers an entire alphabet of impressions with nary a prop or co-star on stage. A later set piece focuses on the ensemble of the principles engaging in a rapid-fire clap dance. And, as mentioned, aside from fleeting mentions of, say, Ariana Grande, it all feels just that trifle more traditional than some of QDOS’ more recent outings.

It’s fitting then, that Whittington arrives in time for the Grand to celebrate its 125th birthday, with the performance reviewed even featuring a surprise, one-off appearance by panto and variety performance royalty, Jimmy Tarbuck, in a moving and humour-filled set.

It’s easy to dismiss this back-to-basics approach as somehow a negative. It isn’t. There are still plenty of laughs, fun and spectacle crammed into the production, the latter perhaps best evident in the form of an enormous, animatronic giant rat that towers out into the audience, and sadly only makes a single appearance at the tail-end (get it?) of the first act.

Much of the humour comes courtesy of a very game cast, perhaps most notably comedy legend Su Pollard chomping and chewing out every moment on stage as a tail-swinging, shimmy-shaking and truly dastardly Queen Rat. Pollard clearly knows and loves panto inside-out, and is a blast as the show’s villain, camping it up whilst still injecting it with enough menace and bombast to be a boo-hissable adversary for the audience (old and young alike) to jeer at.

Much of the show’s success also falls on the amply-padded shoulder’s of the Grand’s now-resident Dame, Ian Adams, this time festooning his ‘Sarah the Cook’ with a veritable buffet of food-related puns. On triple duty as writer, director and dame, Adams once again proves himself one of the finest, funniest dames in the business, with impeccable comic timing, invention and a relentless energy that sets the standard for the rest of the show to follow.

Another regular face at the Grand, Hi-De-Hi veteran Jeffery Holland brings a warmth and dignity to his turn as Alderman Fitzwarren, whilst choreographer Julie Paton is also back, and once again in fine voice and graceful presence as Fairy Bowbells. Corrie and Celebrity Big Brother star Ryan Thomas is a safe and likeable pair of hands for the titular role of ‘Richard Whittington… of Weatherfield’, cutting a handsome and earnest figure from what is always a fairly rote role. He’s well-accompanied by a fantastic Jordan Ginger who makes a memorable impression with limited stage time as the rapping, singing, dancing and awfully well-spoken ‘Tommy’ the Cat. 

Far from breaking the mould, Wolverhampton’s Dick Whittington puts on a great show that makes a fantastic argument for ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t drown it in needless modernity and pop culture references’. All involved have put together here a buoyant, energised and frequently funny showcase of vintage pantomime fun, and on such a special and celebratory anniversary for the Grand, you couldn’t ask for a more appropriate or fitting celebration than that.

But what rating?

Given the occasion, it seems only fitting to do something a little special, and give it five stars - cubed!

Do a little math (google it if necessary) and you’ll hopefully see why…

RATING - ★★★★★³ (five stars, cubed!)

DICK WHITTINGTON plays at The Wolverhampton Grand until Sunday 12th January 2020.

Official Site / Box Office: 01902 429 212