By Neil Durham
WORTH A LOOK?: ***
WHEN?: Sunday 5 December 2021, booking until 9 January 2022
RUNTIME: 125 minutes (including a 20-minute interval)
‘I think you know the story of Dick Whittington better than we do,’ says RuPaul’s Drag Race UK season 1 star Cheryl Hole, lead in this adult pantomime, to the audience at its finale and it would be difficult to disagree.
- Read on for reasons including how Drag Race UK‘s Elektra Fence was the unexpected surprise of the night
However, there were a lot of laughs here, not all of them intentional, and pantomime doesn’t have to be perfect to entertain, which was perhaps just as well, at this 1st of 6 shows predominantly on Sunday nights through December and January.
2 years ago Tuck Shop UK brought us drag pantomime Cinderella at Trafalgar Studios and tonight transported the art form up the road to a more central West End venue, the 1,012-seater Phoenix Theatre, currently home to the Olivier Award-winning Come From Away musical.
We 1st saw Hole starring in Gals Aloud at the Underbelly Festival in 2019 and she’s a calming presence here because she clearly knows her lines in the lead role and revels in the limelight as her near Girls Aloud namesake with a showstopping mimed performance of Fight For This Love.
We’d read 1 of our favourite drag performers Holly Stars (Death Drop at the Garrick) was due to appear and we’re disappointed she didn’t make it. We assume Elektra Fence, from season 3 of Drag Race UK, took on the role of Dick’s pussy at the last minute and she’s an unexpected furball of fun.
Our season 3 favourite was Kitty Scott-Claus, who finished top 3 in the latest Drag Race UK, and makes for a hilarious Spirit Of Soho and later brilliantly spoofs both Cilla Black and Gemma Collins.
If things start a little stiltedly, they gain their sea legs when the action moves from Old Compton Street, Soho, to a boat which allows for a crowdpleasing version of the Village People’s In The Navy and lots of fun with a Titanic skit which recalls 1 of Kitty’s strongest Drag Race UK moments.
Fellow season 3 queen Choriza May has a lot of fun as Queen Rat and there’s even a sidesplitting flashback to the controversial lipsynch where she left the show.
Special mention to Ophelia Love who showed what a gifted comedy performer she could be as well as what an impressive live singing voice she has as Ensemble Number 4. Would love to see her on the next season of Drag Race UK.
Karen From Finance (Drag Race Down Under) struggled a little during a number involving addressed boxes that we’d seen performed much better this year at Greenwich Theatre‘s family friendly pantomime. But she should take heart from a performance which had other highlights and will improve with practice.
We loved also that there were strong drag kings in the cast who made the point well that they should also feature in Drag Race at some point.
It may have all been a little hectic at times but when it worked – during a very adult version of the 12 Days of Christmas – it was laugh-out-loud funny. It needs a little bit of polish but, if you like Drag Race, it’s well worth catching later in its brief West End run.