I’m not sure how long it takes to create a “tradition” but Panto Online is now in its third year of doing what it says on the tin and producing a family show that keeps alive the spirit of that most British of entertainments. Born out of necessity during the pandemic, Blue Peter alumnus and pantomime dame expert Peter Duncan follows up Jack And The Beanstalk and Cinderella (both still available) with something that is rather looser in format but brings in several of the expected aspects and characters from the world of children’s stories.
In truth, it is rather a rag baggy mish mash with no coherent storyline. There’s just a succession of set pieces threaded together by the “adventures” of Dame Dolly Doughnut (Peter Duncan, himself) and not all of these are successful. Indeed, at one stage it seems like panto is abandoned altogether for a section which has more in keeping with Jackanory. This is the narrated and illustrated story of Alexis which, oddly, is a political fable about a repressive regime fronted by a horrible dictator (can’t imagine who they are thinking of). Although the character resurfaces both live in the form of Arthur Duncan (Peter’s son) and as a puppet he’s not a traditional pantomime figure so the whole idea sits uneasily.
More in keeping with expectations are encounters with Aladdin (Tazmin-May Gebbett), Captain Hook (Duncan in male guise for once) and Mr Smee (Kevin Osborne) but these are essentially separate sketches with no attempt to integrate them into any consistent plot. Beyond that there are a couple of puppet/muppet shows, an interminably unfunny version of The Twelve Days Of Christmas and Duncan - still in full drag - revisits his have-a-go Blue Peter days by learning to paddleboard and go zip wiring around on a magic carpet.
Apparently the latter was filmed on the hottest day of the summer – which must have been fun! As in the previous pair of shows, much of what happens has been transposed to the great outdoors and I daresay that the water based sequences must have come as a great relief as Duncan throws himself into proceedings with his customary abandon. He also parades through the piece in a dazzling array of detailed dame outfits – Natalie Beaumont’s costume design is the undoubted stand out in this show.
Having enjoyed both the last two years of Panto Online’s offerings this, mercifully short, third iteration seems like an ill-conceived, badly structured misfire. Perhaps Duncan as writer, star, director, songwriter and prop maker is trying to do too much. Parts of the show might well entertain the very young - and it would definitely be easy enough and probably even preferable to watch it in short bursts. But if you’re looking for a proper panto experience then head for one of the other two previous proper pantos – or venture to your local theatre for the real mccoy.
Pantoland is available via the Panto Online website
Review: BottomLine Photo: Gordon Render