Review: Potted Panto (Garrick Theatre)
A plethora of pantos are stuffed into a whirligig of festive fun
Given most theatre critics have to tackle three, maybe four pantomimes each winter, it's mightily helpful for the Potted Panto team to make up the numbers in this year of cancellations and closures by stuffing seven shows into a 70-minute spell.
That's the concept behind Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner's hit show first seen back in 2010 – take all the pantos and cram them into a one-act experience – playing them out with all the safety protocols necessary for a socially distanced West End audience.
With bawdy jokes, multi-roling at the drop of a hat (or a King Rat mask) and more truncation than an elephant's shorthand, this is a non-stop caper through a British format that only gets as old as your inner child – Clarkson and Turner clatter along with unabashed glee, as relieved as all of us to finally actually get to perform live in front of audiences. There's no doubt this is a recipe for a success – kids love the panto tropes, parents love the chance to chug wine without a substantial meal while cackling at the seemingly endless string of "Dick" jokes.
But, a decade older than its first appearance, the show decides to stick to its '00s guns rather than embraced its '20s context – apart from some amusing pandemic asides (including an unexpected reference to the mink cull). The pair stumble through a rapping cat segment (rapping on stage will never be the same after Hamilton), a stray reference to TikTok and a drastically prolonged sequence involving a 3D carriage chase and lots of ducking and leaning to and fro. The piece shows its age when Boris appears as a London Mayor (with a throwaway line to his promotion), and song choices don't seem to make it past 2002 (as the cast themselves admit, granted).
It loses steam somewhat towards the end as panto vibes collide with Dickensian whimsy, and for a second you're worried that the Potted Panto might come unstuck. But, with a merry sing-along, audiences leave with a dollop of good, old-fashioned festive fun – an adequate tonic for anyone wanting to bask in some festive revels as we finally see out this ghastly year.