Alternative pantos are a refreshing break from the usual series of beaming smiles and inexhaustible cheer that your normal festive show encapsulates. Presented with subversive, left field comedy, these are performances that strive to be innovative, all tied up with a wink and a nudge. The same is certainly true of Ricky Whittington and his Cat, currently running at the New Diorama in one of the later additions to the Christmas selection.
We see ourselves thrust into the life of Ricky (played by Fresh Meat alum Charlotte Ritchie) travelling down to the big smoke of London, intent to see his life made (because moving to London is what people do right?). It’s on the nose satire of the aptest sort, where landlords are opportunistic and local governmental support is farcically useless. From his arrival (alongside his titular cat), Ricky struggles to find his place, until by a stroke of fortune he is voted into office, a place from which his misadventures only continue.
There’s a lot to like in the show – especially some of the performers, David Elms as Ricky’s mum is an unending source of comedy, particularly his versatility in the face of audience interaction. Rosa Robson’s variety of roles were all pulled off with an incredible talent – to the extent that she felt woefully underused (though her’s and Ritchie’s scene at the start of Act 2 ended up being the show’s ultimate highlight)
Another triumph came in the form of Daran Johnson and David Pegg’s original compositions, musically interesting, engaging and always ready to self deprecate and mock. The show certainly became all the funnier when characters began singing. Tom Kingsley’s set also deserves a particular mention, blending projection with 2D cartoon to kit out Whittington’s London.
The real issue here was pacing – at around 150 minutes, some of the jokes and ideas did begin to wear thin by the middle of the second act. The seemingly random inclusion of a carousel of notable comedians every night (our night seeing Richard Gadd take to the stage) fell down flat, with the whole ‘Time Cop’ gag just feeling overly forced (which, as a big Gadd fan, was a real shame). Structure also meant that the show was undermined by its self deprecation – everything had to be mocked, parodied or stuffed with gags, to the extent that it all felt like it could be significantly shorter.
A panto capable of high highs and middling lows, perhaps ideal for an alternative night of festive cheer. Catch it at the New Diorama for the rest of December.