Writers: Daniel Clarkson, Jefferson Turner and Richard Hurst
Director: Richard Hurst
The lights are back on at Nimax, the first large theatre group to open several of its West End venues at the same time after a second lockdown temporarily delayed its plans. The Garrick Theatre reopens this weekend with Daniel Clarkson, Jefferson Turner and Richard Hurst’s Potted Panto, a 70-minute pantomime extravaganza that charts the key features of the genre in a high-energy showcase.
Performers Clarkson and Turner begin the show with an argument – Turner thinks there are six great pantos around which Potted Panto is structured (Jack and the Beanstalk, Dick Whittington, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White and Aladdin) while Clarkson wants to include a wider selection of stories including A Christmas Carol and Mary Poppins. That battle sets the scene for a comedy power struggle as Turner tries to teach Clarkson and the audience the real meaning of panto.
Each mini story is a chance to bring out one key panto tradition – the panto cow, the “it’s behind you” ghost gag, audience interaction, rhyming couplets and the song-sheet singalong – all woven into a panto-goes-wrong format that becomes increasingly madcap. This thrown-together virtue leads to much hilarity as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother becomes a slightly too random French Fairy God-Chicken due to costume availability and Clarkson continually misapplies panto characteristics for comic effect, becoming a Dame in the mode of Barbara Cartland and a rapping evil Queen in Snow White.
Potted Panto also has plenty of adult humour, recasting Dick Whittington as Boris Johnson with jokes about his mayoral record, privilege and handling of the pandemic, giving an expected emphasis to his character’s name. There are lots of social distancing jokes worked seamlessly through the stories, often as ad libs, that flex the established material so it resonates with the audience newly returned to theatres after a very strange year.
Audience participation is an unavoidable given including a 3D creation of Cinderella’s careering coach swerving various obstacles, and the inclusion of one poor front row member in a running gag with Prince Charming. And while no one can get on stage this year, some of the best moments come from the children including one who alarmingly recommends a suicide by shotgun death and a very astute young lady who objects to Sleeping Beauty being kissed awake because she hasn’t given permission – consent not being a feature of the fairy tale!
Performers Clarkson and Turner are great hosts and have a blast on stage creating the various characters, teasing each other and playing with the conventions and purpose of pantomime. And their energy is infectious, involving the room in the antics, winning over both parents and children with the zany approach to storytelling.
The characterisation and physical comedy of Potted Panto is just large enough to appeal to younger members of the audience, while the knowing humour and meta style of the overall production keeps the adults engaged right through the hilarious Aladdin meets Dickens finale. Fun and genuinely funny, Potted Panto strikes just the right tone to lift everyone’s spirits this Christmas and provide a hearty welcome back to Nimax.
Runs until 10 January 2020