It’s a new Great British tradition in its own right: the subversive world of the adult-only Panto. Throbbing with Dames, drag queens and not-so-subtle double-entendres, Charming Dick is a charming addition to this glorious canon of smut, which slaps you round the face and keeps on slapping.
In many ways, Tim McArthur’s production amalgamates all the best bits of any traditional Christmas Panto – the rip-off musical numbers, cries of ‘He’s behind you!’ and naughty jokes were always really intended for the grown-ups anyway. The only downside is that the show loses some of its potential impact – and a lot of its power as a parody – because of its lack of plot.
Sure, the basics are covered. They’ve got a Pantomime Dame, played with expert panache by McArthur himself. They’ve got a villainous Queen (the very funny Matthew Jones.) And a love story between none other than the Prince and Big Dick (Stewart Briggs and Alistair Frederick). But the rest of the plot is a bit of a cop-out; a blending together of several different elements from Jack and the Beanstalk, Dick Whittington and Aladdin which altogether don’t amount to much of a plot at all. When you consider the running time of the show, and how much might have been crammed in, this seems a shame. A greater commitment to the those well-known plot devices at the start would’ve meant the show had more room to create clever spoof-filled moments later on, and to play around with the conventions a lot more.
As it is though, Charming Dick is still hugely entertaining. Full of self-referential, self-deprecating nods to its low budget, stripped back style and generally camp chic (“The Easy Jet of Panto”) at times it makes you cringe, but at others it summons hysterical laughter from the entire audience. Some favourite moments for me include a brilliant Cher gag and the company’s exhausting take on The Twelve Days of Christmas. There was also a cat with Torrettes and slightly tactless Chinese accent that took us all back to the seventies. Those weren’t very PC gags but then that’s probably the point.
The cast of five are generally superb. McArthur, Jones and Briggs are pretty faultless, plus funny and sublimely camp. Frederick makes a wonderful Big Dick, full of naivety and humour. He should, however, have more confidence in his performance and really play for laughs the way his co-performers do. The star of the show, however, is Abigail Carter-Simpson. She brings a surreal, sarcastic and effortlessly comic note to the show as she flits between a seemingly never-ending barrage of characters with increasing irritability. Her voice also happens to be fantastic – in fact, all of the musical numbers in the show from Wicked to Abba are a treat.
Shows like this succeed in capturing the giddy, chaotic and explosive feeling that Panto gives you when you’re a kid – just in a more adult setting. You get to shout rude words, you get pelted with chocolate fingers, and you get to act like a complete dick for a couple of hours, with no kids around to ruin it. Sure it’s cheesy escapism (and the cast make it look easy) but there is something almost transcendent about this show.
(And if lines like “straight up the shitter with an HB pencil” don’t get you in the festive spirit, I don’t know what will.)
Charming Dick is on until 23rd December 2016 at the Cockpit. Click here for more details.