Panto is all about delighting children and no-one does it better than the actor who refuses to grow up, Shane Richie.
The EastEnders’ star is back at Wycombe Swan and hoping for a second record-breaking year, this time as the lead in Dick Whittington.
Yes, of course there were the obligatory Dick jokes (the theatre probably has the oldest Dick in panto) and he played on his, occasionally scurrilous, reputation by snogging a blonde “yummy mummy” called Dawn in the stalls.
But he has such irrepressible charm that you can forgive him anything – even the quick-fire, occasional mumbling, delivery of his lines which caused some of his gags to fall flat.
Richie, a multiple BAFTA winner, game show host, soap star, writer, serious actor and all-round entertainer, smashes through an image of himself to make his entrance.
Then he’s straight down into the stalls, pinching a boy’s Skittles, glad-handing youngsters and endearing himself to the audience.
The nub of the only vaguely-true story in pantoland is that the penniless Dick wants to travel to London to make his fortune.
Unfortunately there’s a dirty rat in his way who wants to make him a sex slave and rule the city in his place.
The baddie has undergone a sex change to become a very stunning Queen Rat though Kim Tiddy needs to be a bit more larger than life to match her co-star’s out-sized personality.
The grand Dame, for every good panto must have one, is in the capable hands of veteran performer Malcolm Lord, who, for those of you old enough to remember, was both Bungle and George on children’s TV favourite, Rainbow, in the 1980s.
So it was traumatic to see the outlandishly-dressed star perform a striptease down to bouncy boobs and basque. Goodness knows what Zippy would have made of it.
We’re treated to slick vaudeville routines, lots of gags and silliness, plus references to EastEnders (and West Ham), that win the approval of the family audience.
There were a few prop malfunctions but you never know in panto if it’s a deliberate “bit of business” (as they say in the business) or a genuine cock-up.
Either way, it all adds to the laughs.
The second act starts with utter mayhem as super-soakers are fired and buckets of foam are thrown liberally about while fellow EastEnder Sharon Ballard, as the fairy, sings.
I’m not a great fan of magicians who use live animals in their act so was personally disappointed to see doves used by illusionist Phil Hitchcock, playing a sultan.
But I was in a minority as there were gasps of wonder from the younger theatre-goers.
There’s nothing subtle about panto and that’s just the way it should be. Often it’s the first time a child experiences theatre and you can’t do better than enjoy a madcap performance from someone like Richie.
The sets and costumes are spectacular. At one point Dick dons a coat of many colours that was probably filched from a previous Joseph production.
Panto isn’t a cheap night out for a family so you want the best. It’s hard to better Wycombe’s dazzling Dick Whittington.
Dick Whittington runs until January 4.
*Oh, and if you’re thinking ahead, the Wycombe Swan has already announced next year’s Christmas show. Villainous Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood will be starring as Captain Hook in Peter Pan. Tickets are now on sale.