Dear Santa, in 2016 can we please have no more fringe pantos put on for fifty quid? I want transformations, flying and glitter. Thank you.
London pantomime options seem to have polarized into two equally camp camps. There’s the First Family Entertainment-dominated Cadbury-sponsored commercial stuff that circulates round ATG theatres at Richmond, Bromley, Wimbledon and the provinces recyling sets, costumes and Eric Potts-scripted jokes and providing generous winter fuel allowances for telly pensioners like Christopher Biggins or Lesley Joseph. Occasionally they’ll import some totemic American soap star who has no idea what the genre’s about and who takes the money for blinking in bewilderment and being able to walk upright. Although Linda Gray had to be almost wheeled on and off stage.
But at least they stick to the bones of a traditional panto – baddies, genies, fairy godmothers, principal boys and princesses, a chorus of at least eight dancers, sparkly sets and costumes which might have the whiff of Febreze but still look the part. Even if you have to sit through the gyrations of some runner-up street-dance troupe from Britain’s Got Talent, you’ll still get your full-blown Cinderella or Aladdin with its happy ending, song sheet and glittery walkdown.
At the other end of the scale you have scantily-rehearsed and only lightly-scripted material thrown on in a room above a pub where the glass slipper is a glitter-sprayed Oxfam flip-flop and the only way the audience is going to roar with delight is if it’s drunk or thriving on in-jokes for a specific coterie, for example the gay ones where people think the height of satirical wit is for the Dame to say ‘c*nt’ at any and every opportunity.
At the LOST Theatre, in a shadowy and tubeless stretch of the Wandsworth Road but in a recognisably tiered and curtained auditorium with Kitten in Heels, director producer and dame Paul L Martin has at least tried something smarter: his script has up-to-the-minute topicality and some clever lines as well as the obvious groaners, and he himself puts class and energy into a properly characterized Widow Twankey.
Unfortunately, the small supporting cast includes good burlesque and cabaret performers who aren’t given their own chances to shine and have to shuffle too many characters in order to carry the plots of both Dick Whittington (which it mostly is) and Puss in Boots (which no-one knows the plot of anyway). Even me, and Puss was the first panto I was ever in, in London – Charing Cross Hospital Theatre, 1981 if you’re counting.
The music from a single keyboard is thin, there are some audibility issues, there’s no credible romance, the cast don’t adequately engage with the audience, and in fact in the row behind me an office hen party were making up their own jokes which were disturbing, but also disturbingly better than some of those on stage.
Maybe save your money for Hackney Empire where for 30 quid you get the best dame in Clive Rowe, and the wonderful Debbie Kurup climbing the beanstalk, surrounded with dancing silver stars and penguins.
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