It’s been a long wait, a long nine months since I was last in the West End. It felt so good to be back. The Garrick Theatre in Charing Cross Road looked pristine as we patiently queued outside. A quick check of the temperature and we were in, masks on and proper social distancing throughout. I did wonder how the ‘oh no you didn’t, oh yes you did!’ scenario might play out with a reduced audience, but it worked a treat with punters eager to join in at every opportunity.
Potted Panto is a well-established show, having run successfully over a period of ten years, playing first at the Vaudeville Theatre and earning an Olivier nomination. Such recognition is well deserved, as co-writers Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner lead a glorious mashup of panto’s finest moments. Ably assisted by Jacob Jackson and Charlotte Payne the pair come across as children’s TV presenters with a playful, almost subversive, streak. Like all good pantos there are gags for both adults and kids as popular references are weaved into a gently winding narrative. They open with Jack & the Beanstalk followed by Dick Whittington, the latter containing a wickedly clever impersonation of a well-known public figure. Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Snow White arrive in quick succession as they joyfully exploit the similarities, Prince Charming straying into various storylines just for the hell of it. The finale is a weird and wonderful combination of Aladdin and A Christmas Carol.
Potted Panto is a marvellously inventive canter through the genre. It’s not the easiest discipline to perform or write as the audience is so diverse; so this becomes a towering achievement particularly under current restrictions. Dan and Jeff are barely offstage during the 70-minute performance, assuming a variety of guises and costumes, which takes some doing with a stripped down production. You sense the cast are straining at the leash and buoyed by the presence of a live audience.
This is a reminder, if one were ever needed, that nothing can beat human contact and the reaction we get from a face-to-face encounter. Entertainment is a shot in the arm, much like the vaccine that has thankfully appeared. It’s an exciting and hopeful end to a wretched year. We may not have turned the corner but we can at least see it!
Written by: Daniel Clarkson, Richard Hurst and Jefferson Turner
Directed by: Richard Hurst
Produced by: James Seabright
Potted Panto is playing at Garrick Theatre until 10 Janurary 2021.