‘We’ll keep the blue gags flying here!’: PANTOLAND – London Palladium

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London Palladium – until 3 January 2021

I had booked us in the very day Lloyd Webber and Qdos announced that with anti-viral door handles, fogging, separating of bubbles and teeth-gritted determination, ‘Oh Yes There Would’ be a  panto – or as near as dammit – at the Palladium in 2020. On the far side of Lockdown 2 with the capital teetering on the brink of Tier 3 closing anywhere suspected of entertaining, we reported to row J, temperatures taken, paws disinfected.

And up went the curtain, and up struck the orchestra, and Beverley Knight in crazy pink feathers belted out a newborn song saying basically hey, here we all are, guys, welcome to Pantoland and the Palladium after a trying year. So everyone roared through masks, understanding that having bought tickets and turned out we the audience were a vital part of a little miracle of defiance and star-studded frivolity. Let cowards flinch and traitors sneer, we’ll keep the blue gags flying here!

Impressively blue, indeed, not only host Julian Clary’s enormous fluffy cerulean cape and headgear but his abundant, ever trouser-based, camp innuendos. One hopes that for the Royal children’s visit the day before he toned some of them down. A bit, anyway. Though who knows, they may be filthy minded already? Their social stratum is famously robust after a day’s shootin’…

Clary as always owns the stage, the flamboyant, scornful stand-up wit at the centre of the key quartet of clowns. Gary Wilmot in a yellow Dame crinoline sings his London Underground song, Paul Zerdin achieves the classiest of ventriloquist acts, culminating when his puppet duets contemptuously with an admirably game Beverley Knight: she singing ‘I Will Always Love You’ – straight – the monster jeering.

And Nigel Havers returns to his beloved role of serial insultee, in a series of outfits from Dandini to plum pudding. Charlie Stemp dances featly, and Jac Yarrow from Joseph is back on the stage where he broke through. When the key four, led by a remarkably spry Clary, do their beloved split-second ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ routine the house brings the roof off. Hard to believe it’s only 60% full.

It’s a pure variety trick. Indeed that is the form of the show, wisely eschewing any one plot (risky these days, Cameron Mac with Les Mis had to have two understudies per part). Rather they bring on star acts, themed loosely: the breakdance group Diversity are vaguely Robin Hood, and Elaine Paige turns up in the second half as Queen Rat with a curious Webberish mishmash of her old themes, to be insulted in turn.

The Covid jokes are all good, Clary observing that a sea of blue paper masks looks like “Invasion of the J Cloths”, and Zerdin’s vent puppet flirting with a front row woman with  “get yer nose out for the lads!”.  The whole thing is artfully designed to seem as if the stars just got together with minimal rehearsal for a lark. While in fact it is – like the Palladium’s own organisation – split-second sharp, in and out to the minute and with all gaffes planned. Not for the very youngest probably, but for the rest of us over-7s and our inner child  a proper, silly, defiant  showbiz shot in the arm.

Box office http://www.lwtheatres.co.Uk.   to 3 Jan

Rating is inappropriate for these resurrections. Trust the description only, and here’s a Christmouse!

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Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.
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Libby Purves on RssLibby Purves on Twitter
Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.

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