Peter Pandemic at the Canal Cafe Theatre
References to cultural moments of the year are a big part of what makes the pantomime genre so endlessly generative; the stock characters of our classic tales can be remodelled to fit whatever the times demand. These times are most demanding, and CR8TRACT and Canal Cafe Theatre have responded with Peter Pandemic, a jovial and fast-paced panto for grown-ups.
The title itself was a term coined by Charlie Brooker to refer to the bumbling Health Secretary, Matt Hancock – and, indeed, most of the gags here feel sourced from Twitter, from cracks about the Barnard Castle “eye test” to “You lost – just like Trump!”. They get an instinctual laugh of recognition from the audience but don’t really challenge our comfort zones; Boris could watch this without getting hot under the collar.
The play repurposes songs from Kate Bush and The Greatest Showman, with COVID-themed lyrics that are very funny, particularly sung by the three well-trained voices of the cast. Benjamin Levy’s full piano accompaniment also makes the stage seem bigger than it is. There is an endless stream of worn-out references to RuPaul’s Drag Race, while Peter Pandemic misses the fact that Peter is traditionally played by a woman (respect to Bonnie Langford). Alex White is nonetheless very entertaining as a winking Peter, all knee slaps and intentionally corny jokes. Wendy (Josephine Rattigan) is equally charming, and attuned to capturing moments of spontaneity, interacting with the audience with words and knowing looks.
Particular notice must go to co-writer Ceris Hine – on stage as “Tinderbell” and assorted other characters – who switches between sincerity and sarcasm, leaning on the creakier parts of the play’s construction even while relishing its mechanism. Peter Pandemic almost mirrors the structure of 2020 non-blockbuster event Tenet, travelling through various sketches in the first half and then revisiting them in reverse order. Occasionally it feels like a jumbled mess, but with jokes flying thick and fast and a cast enjoying themselves this much it hardly seems to matter.
Peter Pandemic is at the Canal Cafe Theatre from 8th December until 22nd December 2020, with performances during Tier 3 restrictions suspended. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.