Al Murray and Clive Rowe star in Wimbledon's enjoyable if unremarkable seasonal show
The New Wimbledon Theatre panto’s journey from notoriously tacky blingfest to respectable seasonal outing is complete this year with the addition to its roster of London’s most famous dame, Clive Rowe.
Long the sole preserve of Hackney Empire, I’m not sure what sort of twist of panto politics has brought Rowe so far south-west. But he’s his usual wonderful self, a booming, bustling, fearless presence as Dame Trot, mother to the titular Jack (Liam Tamne: bland, but that’s kind of the deal with panto heroes).
Arguably the show’s real USP is the casting of big-name comic Al Murray. Playing Jack’s brother in a fairly shameless reprise of his Pub Landlord character, dubbed Barman Al, he doesn’t exactly flex his acting muscles but it’s difficult to imagine anybody who booked because of him will have a problem with that.
It’s bright and bouncy, with lovely painted sets by Ian Westbrook and a gloriously hammy 3D section that sent the school kids in the audience genuinely nuts and reminded me pleasingly of the ’80s kids’ TV show ‘Knightmare’. Director Thom Southerland never lets the energy levels dip below ‘perky’, and its two-hour, 15-minute running time is blessedly brief by genre standards.
It’s got everything you could really want, apart from – alas – a decent script. The text (Alan McHugh is the sole credit, as ‘co-adaptor’) is functional, but it’s essentially a bog-standard run through the story – cow, beans, beanstalk etc – with a bit of room for Murray and Rowe to do their respective schticks. The inventiveness, satire and fierce localism of London’s best pantomimes are simply not present. It’s an affable enough evening, but I suspect they’ll have to up their game if they hope to hold on to Rowe for another year.