Dame Edna Everage in Dick Whittington at the New Wimbledon
Approved by ATG's PR & Communications Officer, David Bradbury
Libby Purves, The Times
It isn't the storybook bling of the Bow-Bells set, nor the saucy giant sausage, nor even the free 3-D glasses which, to shrieks and gasps, bring five minutes’ dazzling underwater projection of fish overhead. It isn't the lavishly hilarious costumes and dancing, even the amazing, commanding, breakdancing dwarf (Ben Goffe). It is not even the burping puppet turtle or the classic Twelve-days-of-Christmas chaos involving water-pistols and rubber chickens.
Even the best gags in Eric Potts's script ('tarka masala — like tikka masala only it's a little 'otter') make just another good panto. What elevates this to the panto stratosphere is Fairy Edna Everage: overflying us in every sense as she wobbles in a hollowed-out giant model wombat from the upper circle. 'Her' first-ever panto is a triumph.
A critical-bias alert: I have not missed one live Edna UK show since the first one, 40 years ago, cost a week of my wages. I have waved gladioli at her from the back circle and the Albert Hall, and in more affluent days cringed as her glittering specs scanned the front stalls for victims. I am a fan. But I feared the transference into panto of that knowing irony, that maternal contempt for Poms and possums. If ever there was a solo turn it's Dame Edna. I feared she would sour the panto spirit, stand aloof from childish ritual. Some big-name stars avoid the ensemble work and the need to rehearse alongside commoners: and there is already a seasoned Dame (Potts himself) playing Sarah the Cook. Would Edna be a mere entr'acte?
No fear. Rather, an instrument of gentle subversion adding grown-up pleasure yet getting small ones cheering too ('It'll all come gushing out in psychotherapy one day'). Her stance is of puzzled, self-confident condescension which deplores the rhymes ('This is abysmal!') and summons a front-row victim to lend her a programme when she forgets the plot.
Once, entering with the statutory flash and puff of smoke, she says 'I see. It's tradition. You invent a character who'll solve everyone's problems, then set fire to them.' Perfectly judged, Edna adds ironic but genuine warmth: she joins chorus lines, leads a troop of tiny Ednarettes and attempts a duet with Dick (Sam Attwater).
She amuses us with passing asides ('I'm staying with Prince Harry. He's quite passionate in a Mediterranean way, which is quite unusual in a ginger'). It's the full Edna, yet never overshadows the romantic, child-friendly romp of 'Whittington'. Her boundlessly generous egomania, benignly patronising sarcasm and regal absurdity find a new platform, and revel in it.
To buy tickets to see Dick Whittington at New Wimbledon Theatre visit... http://www.atgtickets.com/Dick-Whittington-Tickets/7/209/