I’ve seen most of Dame Edna’s London shows in the last 30 years and despite the disaster of the second and latest ‘Last Night of the Poms’, I couldn’t resist her panto debut – as fairy, rather than Dame! Unfortunately, I’d forgotten how cynical and exploitive commercial panto has become (and how they deteriorate during the run as everyone gets tired and fed up) having only visited panto heaven in Hackney & Stratford in recent years.
This was like a ‘mash-up’ of a bad Dame Edna show and a bad panto competing for which was worst. The panto won, but only just. Dame Edna’s fluffed lines and stumbling delivery suggest she’s probably past it, so maybe the Last Night of the Poms wasn’t a one-off after all. She did her usual ritual humiliation of an audience member and a smattering of risqué jokes and references but the attempts to integrate her into the show were limited and what we got was inferior Edna.
One-man panto production line Eric Potts (Diggory in Corrie!) wrote, directed and played Dame, so much of the blame must rest with him. It was apparently Dick Whittington, but you’d be forgiven for not realising this as there wasn’t much emphasis on story or plot. With the notable exception of Kev Orkian as Idle Jack, who was outstanding and the only one who seemed to be trying or even caring, the cast were irrelevant when Dame Edna was on and pretty dreadful when she wasn’t.
There were colourful sets and good costumes (well, for the panto Dame – Edna seemed to be recycling her old ones) but absolutely no true panto spirit (Idle Jack excepted). The songs were the usual current pop fare, there were nods to TV shows, lame local references and a 3D sequence (effective, but why include it?). The romantic leads didn’t charm you (Sam Attwater and Anna Williamson – both awful), the baddie didn’t scare you (Richard Calkin – boo!), there weren’t enough ‘he’s behind you’s and no song sheet (though in the programme it says Scene 14: The Song Sheet’). It went on and on for 2 hours and 40 minutes, but felt longer.
In commercial pantos they rehash a story, borrow someone else’s tunes, find a few soap has-beens and b-list celebs and throw them together with little rehearsal. If you want to see a real panto, head east to Stratford or Hackney. Sorry, Wimbledon, you are about as far away from my view of ‘The Home of London Pantomime’ (their words) as it’s possible to be. Shameful. - Gareth James
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