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Paul Zerdin talks Michael Harrison, last year's closure and bringing panto back to the Palladium

The panto legend is back in the West End

Paul Zerdin
© Paul Coltas

Paul Zerdin's name is one pretty much synonymous with Christmas – the panto legend has been wowing for over almost three decades now and continues to delight audiences across the nation.

He's back, once more, at The London Palladium for festive knees-up – this time in the form of Panto at the Palladium – a mammoth variety show that samples delights from pantos past and mixes them in one great big mélange on one of London's largest stages.

The show was originally set to play last Christmas but, as Zerdin reflects, it was heart-wrenchingly cut short by the onset of the December Covid wave, leading to a third lockdown. Zerdin "We did a royal gala with Will and Kate, played four shows over the weekend and by the Tuesday that was it. But those audiences in 2020 - we'd never seen anything like it. At the Palladium you're always used to amazing audiences but even with less than half the usual number of spectators, the wall of sound that came from people, even from behind masks, was incredible. When you get a laugh on that stage it comes back and hits you in the face."

Zerdin credits a lot of this down to producer and director Michael Harrison: "He had this sort of wartime spirit – this gung-ho attitude. He said we'd get through this and, as we've seen, we did. " Though, as the ventriloquism pro confesses, the lack of show in 2020 did mean he had something of a boozier Christmas than he's be able to get in normal times.

But the praise for Harrison doesn't end there: "I started panto in 1993 and I've done it virtually every year. Michael gets it like no one else – every year he ups the technical innovation but always remembers that it has to be about the comedy. No one comes to panto for the story!"

What can audiences expect in 2021? "It's basically an improved version of last year, but with Donny Osmond added into the mix – which takes it to a whole other level. Michael takes things up a notch every time. I don't want to give away my favourite bit but it involves Donny and a puppet, that, if you pardon the pun, I have a hand in."

"It's easy to forget how for some theatres, panto is everything – it's a revenue driver to keep them going throughout the year. Fingers crossed, everything will stay safe, and I'm sure problems will pop up here and there – but we've managed to make it work across the board now. Julian Clary, Donny Osmond and a panel of panto greats – it'll be just what the doctor ordered."