Pantomime is a British tradition, a normal festive treat for thousands of families each Christmas, but in a year that has been anything but normal, this family day out has fallen victim to the dreaded coronavirus restrictions with only a small handful able to go ahead.
Nevertheless, if this year has proven anything, it is that not even a global pandemic can completely stop theatre. Yes, the theatres themselves may be closed but the talented creatives and performers have found a new stage that perfectly suits 2020 and that stage is the internet.
Potted Panto, a show that squeezes a multitude of different well-known pantomime story into just seventy minutes, was one of the lucky few productions that just about managed to sneak in a few performances before London was plunged back into lockdown. It may not have been able to finish its run, in fact it had barely started, but that wasn’t the end of this family-friendly and fun little show. The production was filmed live at London’s Garrick Theatre and thanks to the new theatre streaming service Stream. Theatre, it is now available to watch online.
With comedy double act Jeff (Jefferson Turner) and Dan (Daniel Clarkson) at the helm ‘Potted Panto’ is a whirlwind adventure through six of the best-known traditional pantos (plus more if Dan gets his way). ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, ‘Dick Whittington’, ‘Sleeping Beauty’, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’, ‘Aladdin’ and ‘Cinderella’ all get the potted treatment, with the two performers (with occasional cameos from Jacob Jackson and Charlotte Payne) somehow managing to fit a couple of hours’ worth of panto into little over ten minutes for each story.
With the use of just a few select props and a scattering of costumes, Turner and Clarkson are able to bring the joys, thrills and madness of panto alive with ease. Jeff takes on the role of the voice of wisdom, desperately and painstakingly trying to teach Dan all about the traditions of pantomime, all whilst trying to keep him on track and not allowing him to get distracted by his desire to perform ‘A Christmas Carol’ instead. Whether celebrating the joy of the good old ‘oh no it isn’t’, ‘oh yes it is’ call and response fun or the much loved ‘he’s behind you’ gag, this production is both able to tell the stories featured in pantomimes, whilst celebrating the artform itself. It’s a love letter to panto, to the tradition of a family day out at the theatre and the joys of family entertainment.
Dan (Clarkson) milks every role he is given (at one point literally), delighting in taking on the role of Prince Charming throughout, no matter which princess he is sent to rescue, whilst Jeff (Turner) switches from princess one moment to a take on Dick Whittington that plays on making a joke of the last 12 months with the title character baring a resemblance to a certain politician. Whilst it does reference the current climate, with nods to bubbles, social distancing and air high fives, the main focus of this production is to distract the audiences from it all with fun and panto thrills.
This is a production that thrives off of having a live audience, and whilst the capacity of the Garrick theatre may have been reduced, you could feel the excitement and participation of the audience even through a computer screen. The joy of panto is the coming together of families to enjoy something as a shared experience, and even spread out and masked up, ‘Potted Panto’ achieves this. Audience participation is encouraged in a safe socially distanced manner, especially in a 3D experience moment with Cinderella’s carriage ride and it is clear that the audience were more than happy to join in.
‘Potted Panto’ is family-friendly fun and silliness, a celebration of all that is wonderful about the British tradition of pantomime. The cast may be small, but they create a big, over the top story that is exactly the dose of joy that we all need right now.
Review: Rebecca Wallis