By Neil Durham
WORTH A LOOK?: ****
WHEN?: Sunday 26 December 2021, runs to 9 January 2022 RUNTIME: 135 minutes (including 20-minute interval)
A year ago we reviewed a preview of Pantoland at the Palladium, a production which never opened officially, because theatres were closed as part of the December 2020 Covid lockdown.
- Read on for reasons including Donny Osmond and what is different about this 2021 production
We’ve seen and reviewed the London Palladium pantomime every year since it returned to this historic stage in 2016 but decided not to rush back in 2021 because we weren’t sure how different the show would be to the 1 we were 1 of very few people to see in 2020.
We needn’t have worried. There is a lot that is familiar – not necessarily a bad thing in panto (‘Oh not it’s not!’ etc) – but plenty that is new.
‘It’s not really Christmas until you’re flanked by a couple of sweaty Australians who wreak of meths,’ says impish compere Julian Clary after congratulating Australian firebreathing duo, the aptly-named Spark Fire Dance, a new addition to the bill.
For us Clary is the reason we are here. Pantomime is when he is in his element and when his outrageously funny quips can sail over the heads over the younger members of this family audience but land brilliantly with its older ones.
Donny Osmond is also a new addition to the bill and we found him charming, in fine singing voice and bringing a real sense of Vegas class to the proceedings.
He also doesn’t look old enough to have 1st appeared on this stage half a century ago and, when he delights in revealing 125,000 people visit this pantomime each year, it’s a heart-soar moment.
Osmond also plays along as a foil for some of the material, with Clary telling an over-excited middle-aged female audience member at 1 point: ‘Don’t worry about stains on the upholstery, we are sponsored by Febreze.’
Gary Wilmot’s songs have featured previously but the 1 in which he mentions all London’s Tube stations continues to be an absolute highlight.
Nigel Havers continues to be the butt of many jokes and we laughed out loud when Havers walked passed dressed as a Christmas pudding and Clary remarked: ‘Where’s a bottle of brandy and some matches when you need them?’
Clary keeps some of the Covid-inspired material we so enjoyed last year but there’s plenty new to tickle ribs. ‘Is that a heterosexual couple that’s slipped through the net?’ he asks surveying the audience. ‘I’ve been up the Straits of Gibraltar.’
Of principal boy Jac Yarrow (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat), ‘I suspect him of being a super spreader. Time will tell.’
On the panto: ‘There’s no plot to worry about this year – and no baddie. The last thing we need is Paul O’Grady mincing on in a false moustache.’ And later on the season’s culinary delights: ‘My stuffing can bring a grown man to his knees.’
This is more variety show than pantomime and the recognition of Danny La Rue who starred in pantomime here in 1978 was touching. The Tiller Girls remind of old-fashioned showbusiness fun with their dancing and ventriloquist’s Paul Zerdin’s duet with Osmond to a re-imagined Puppy Love to Puppet Love was fun.
Where does this annual panto treat go next? We imagine its current incarnation has more to do with the need to be socially distanced and so would look forward to a return to normal life in 2022 accompanied by this show reverting from its current episodic nature to something a little more traditional pantomime.
- Picture via Facebook courtesy Pantoland at the Palladium Tickets
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