Writer: James Chalmers
Songs: Nick Wyschna and Charlotte Bateup
Director: Nick Wyschna
One person’s yearly theatrical treat is another person’s annually recurring nightmare. The panto is a peculiar beast – a mix of innuendo, interaction and chaotic energy that hits the spot for some, and feels like a gut punch for others. For the style to really work the mix of story and slapstick needs to be balanced, and the atmosphere in the room just right. With this online and live version, the audience interaction is sadly missing (which they of course can’t control for) but the show itself feels a real struggle at times, despite a genuinely impressive gag rate and a wide variety of decent dirty jokes.
We’re given a promising set up – sex-toy shop-owner Ciabatta Myflange wants her daughter Juliet to lose her virginity. When suggestions of local men don’t pan out, she crafts a puppet out of an old wooden dildo which comes to life as Pinocchio. Naturally, this puppet needs to be taught the ways of the world so it can become a real boy, and man, for Juliet. Competing for her affection is Strong Boner, a local man with a bottomless well of creepy come-ons and dick references. Unsurprisingly, there’s a relatively sweet finish where everyone involved gets a happy ending.
There’s not really a sentence without a dick joke, or something eye-poppingly graphic about a vulva. It’s fun, until it starts to feel one-note and the jokes start to grate without landing an impact. The nature of genital based jokes is limited enough too that there’s only so many one can make without repetition – and so we start to veer into 1970’s working man’s club one-liners here and a stale, try-hard feeling. Towards the end, the incest jokes start and its merciful there’s not much more to go after they appear. It’s fun to have innuendo, or even bare faced vulgarity that causes belly laughs and spat-out drinks, but it’s crucial to leaven those out with softer moments to connect with what’s going on. This is just full on, and tiring.
It is clearly a challenge to perform this sort of work in a room without the audience giving energy as well as the normal visual and audible cues. Having viewers email in suggestions for sex toy names and bits of information about themselves was a nice touch – it created a bit of interaction out of nothing and allowed for those funny moments of asides where a panto Dame can really come into her own. The technical side of it, such as multiple cameras to cover for social distancing, was smartly done – adding to the experience greatly and moving us a little way down the road towards feeling like a real theatre show.
The lack of audience did for the show in the end, sadly. The pace and volume of the bawdy gags could have worked with some relief from the audience laughter, the boos and hisses of a real panto. Without it, the vibe was too unnatural – too much like forced fun – and clunky bits of writing or performance were exposed. The company has a christmas panto already confirmed and seem to have the technical part nailed. It’s clearly a creative, energetic crew, hopefully another crack at it will do much better.
Runs here until 12 September