Is a pantomime a pantomime if there’s only a smattering of audience participation and attempts by the audience to create some noise are responded to with a terse, “Shut up!”? I think I heard more cries of ‘Oh no it isn’t’ and ‘It’s behind you’ in the short walk from Oxford Circus Underground Station to the London Palladium than I did during Goldilocks and the Three Bears itself (that is, a few on Argyll Street and none at all in the theatre). Okay, so they’ve kept the running time reasonably comfortable, well within the right side of three hours. But there was no ghost gag. No confectionery was thrown into the audience. No slop scene. No rousing chorus with song sheet. An antagonist in the form of Paul O’Grady’s Baron Von Savage, but no sinister laugh. No rhyming couplets. What on earth was I watching?
Silly Billy (Paul Zerdin) and his trusty puppet sidekick, Sam, didn’t seem to know either: at least they said so in their rapid round-up of events towards the end of the show. The recent Palladium panto tradition of getting some children on stage (vetted by front of house staff at the interval who would speak to their parents to make sure they weren’t going to burst into tears on suddenly being exposed to the Palladium audience and having to speak into a microphone) has also been abandoned – and with it, sending children away with gifts for their time and contributions. So, what’s left?
Goldilocks (Sophie Isaacs) helps her mother, Dame Betty Barnum (Gary Wilmot) run a circus, and that narrative point alone is sufficient for introductions to various acts. These said acts themselves are the saving grace of the production – Peter Pavlov & The Globe of Speed were a particular highlight: several motorbikes darting about in a large spherical structure at close proximity. The Skating Medini, from Italy, spin around a confined space quite impressively on rollerblades, while Phil Hitchcock, aka ‘The Marvellous Mysterioso’ rightly kept his best magic tricks until last.
I was personally in musical theatre heaven as Wilmot rattled through many, many lyrics from different shows in ‘Betty’s Medley’. A tune from 42nd Street was delightful. All of which would have been fine in a musical theatre concert or a variety show. But if a production is billed and promoted as a pantomime, then it should at least try to be one. The Ringmaster (Julian Clary) had it right when he turned to the audience and quipped – with Dame Betty stood on the other side of the stage, “You do know it’s Gary Wilmot in a frock, don’t you?”
I can’t fault the said frocks, and other costumes, particularly Clary’s, which, as in previous years, are lavishly over the top. And I have no problem with Clary’s levels of innuendo – if anything, at least at the performance I attended, he could have been feistier in his asides and ad-libs. It is simply this: this panto isn’t a panto. It’s a real pity, really, going off on a different tangent instead of building on the successes of previous seasons at the Palladium, especially when this year’s cast includes the likes of returners like Nigel Havers (this year in the role of Daddy Bear) and a very likeable Palladium ‘panto’ newcomer in Matt Baker (playing Joey, The Clown). Whilst enjoyable in some respects, it just doesn’t fit the bill.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.