Simon Ward reviews Potted Panto at the Garrick Theatre
A gleeful romp through some of panto’s greatest hits, a show which manages to have its cake and eat it too, by revelling in the deconstruction of the pantomime genre while at the same time delivering all its elements. If you want audience participation (oh yes, you do) it is actually one of the highlights of the show. Dan and Jeff’s joy is infectious, as if they cannot quite believe that the packed auditorium is actually obeying their every crazy demand.
The fun that the performers themselves are having is often part of what makes panto special, and this is no exception. Dan, in particular, is a master in responding to the audience, and incorporating their reactions into the show. When the audience is fifty per cent children that is no mean feat. A word of advice to parents, the humour here is reasonably sophisticated so this is probably best for slightly older children, say from 9 or 10 years and up.
For the uninitiated, as I must admit I was, Dan Clarkson and Jeff Turner have honed their double act in TV appearances on CBBC, and in previous outings of the Potted franchise on stage. The chemistry between them is palpable, with more than a hint of Morecambe and Wise about them. Jeff is the Ernie Wise character, trying to keep the show on the road and only wanting to include ‘proper’ pantos, while Dan is the Eric-Morecambe-style anarchist who will do anything to get a laugh and wants everything Christmassy thrown in, up to and including the Queen’s speech.
Notwithstanding the pair’s TV pedigree, this show is an antidote to the blockbuster big-budget seasonal shows packed with stars elsewhere in the West End, or, worse, the soap-star-driven shows in the suburbs. The set is minimal to a fault, indeed I noticed some distinctly unfestive angels high on stage which I suspect must be from This House which is also running here. Special mention must be given to Nicky Bunch, however, for the costumes – with the number of quick changes involved there are many – a show-stopping beanstalk costume tragically only seen for the space of a 10-second gag.
Some highlights. The aforementioned audience participation, billed as the 3D element of the show, which managed to be hilarious, and rattle through some more of the panto elements (sweets chucked into the crowd, check, water sprayed over the audience, check). The post-interval recap, where they run through the preceding act in ever-decreasing amounts of time is very funny and has the potential to get better and better as the run goes on. Topical references – Boris Johnson and Brexit get their name-checks: Brexiteers prepare your boos now. The final genre-busting Aladdin and Christmas Carol mash-up makes for a great finish.
By the end of the show, when we are singing the whole thing to a close to the tune of Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody, having been covered in snow twice, it would take a very Scrooge-like soul not to respond to all the joyous energy in the room. And to emerge from the beautiful Garrick to the tree in Trafalgar Square – a perfect Christmas treat.
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