Potted Panto at Garrick TheatreCultureTheatre
A bit like including Brussels sprouts in your 25th December spread, seeing a panto at Christmas can seem like a necessary evil: a staunch British tradition we feel the need to follow yet not one that it can be said is universally enjoyed. Men in frocks, damsels in distress, and the obligatory prince charming; the toe-curling unfunny jokes, the relentless slapstick and expectation of audience participation: “Oh yes it is!”, “Oh no it isn’t…” Here to save the day are Olivier-nominees Dan Clarkson and Jeff Turner; delivering all the familiar tropes we love to hate but with their tongues firmly in their cheeks, this is panto reinvented to make us laugh instead of groan.
After the success of the “Potted” format (Potted Pirates, Potted Sherlock, Potted Potter), directed by Richard Hurst, the two familiar faces of CBBC pack in a rundown of the “top seven pantomimes” of all time (Jack and the Beanstalk, Dick Whittington, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White and ending on an Aladdin/A Christmas Carol mashup) into just 80 minutes. Playing out like a farcical low-budget sketch show, the key to the success of the thing is the infectious personalities and interactions of the madcap pair – Jeff Turner is like the slightly more sensible older kid playing with a young brother who won’t quite follow the rules of their game: irritating for him, hilarious for the audience. Clearly having a ball all the way through, they could quite easily be in someone’s living room (potentially drunk) grabbing at whatever props and clothes are lying around to do comedy impressions of the pantos.
Ostensibly aimed at kids, this comedy duo manage to straddle that awkward space between being bright and brash enough to appeal to the younger lot, while sneaking in enough witty innuendo and self-proclaimed political satire to have the adults laughing out loud. A Boris Johnson lookalike is relentlessly called “Dick” and references Brexit in Dick Whittington, the fairy of the West in Sleeping Beauty is a country American going back to “Make America great again!” and a brilliantly arrogant prince is a blatant player, charming each of the stories’ princesses in turn. The quick pace means the jokes don’t drag and the pair’s treatment of the material highlights all that is ridiculous about our favourite fairy tales – “The ugly stepsisters have their noses cut off for destroying Cinderella’s ball invitation?! That seems a bit over-the-top doesn’t it?” – as well as our bizarre panto genre, as Jeff tries to explain the audience participation to Dan: “British people can’t help it. If you shout ‘Oh no it isn’t’ they have to reply ‘Oh yes it is’, it’s a compulsion.”
Whether someone is looking for a family Christmas panto fix but not sure they can stomach a traditional one, or they point blank think they can’t stand the things, they should give Potted Panto a go – in the great tradition of laughing at ourselves, this is 80 minutes of laughing at a great British tradition.
Potted Panto is at Garrick Theatre from 10th December 2016 until 15th January 2017. Book your tickets here.