At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when theatres were closed, and we had to spend Christmas isolating ourselves from everybody else, English actor and TV presenter Peter Duncan decided to do something to save the panto season and bring some joy to everybody: he filmed a pantomime in his garden and made it available online. It was a wonderful idea for those like me starved of theatre; since then, Duncan has repeated the endeavour in 2021 and again this year with the production of Pantoland. All three pantos are available to watch online.
In this latest production, Peter Duncan is Dame Dolly Doughnut, and he is joined by a cast of talented actors, funny muppets and brilliant puppeteers. The performance was filmed in various outside locations during the summer (not just Duncan’s garden anymore), so you will see a lot of sun and people sunbathing which feels a bit strange in these cold and grey days. The recording is flawless, both video and audio, all done in the most professional way.
Dame Dolly takes us on a journey full of flamboyant dresses, fun jokes and slapsticks, daring challenges, known songs and beautifully told stories; this is a panto for all the family, so jokes are mostly PG rated and the show is suitable for younger children and schools. We meet Aladdin, we witness Dame Dolly flying on a magic carpet, we encounter Smee and Captain Hook and even Red Riding Hood. We follow Dame Dolly on a staycation adventure with plenty of water sport shenanigans (remember, it was filmed during the hottest summer on record). There are muppets helping Dame Dolly in her adventures and puppets bringing stories to life, and the inevitable array of crazy songs, including a version of Twelve Days of Christmas.
I cannot fault Duncan, the cast, or the production, but it is very difficult to do panto without the live audience participation; while Duncan does all the usual interaction and banter (“He’s behind you”) you need to mentally fill the gaps that would normally be filled by the audience shouting back (or maybe watch it with a few family members and friends), so I felt slightly less excited and energised at the end compared to a live theatre panto. The story felt a bit disjointed too, probably because I prefer pantos like Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk where there is an overarching plot with plenty of detours along the way, while Pantoland is a patchwork of different stories and characters that have little to do with each other (Aladdin, Captain Hook, Red Riding Hood, Alexis and the circus).
That said, it is a sleek and high-quality production, with plenty of fun for all of the family and a great way to spend an evening at home, especially if for any reason you do not get the chance to see a live panto. As a bonus, it is a lot cheaper than a night at the theatre, especially considering the current cost-of-living crisis: you can see all three shows (Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Pantoland) for just a fiver each (if bought together), all family/friends included.
Review by Fabio Ghiotto
Peter Duncan’s brand-new digital pantomime Pantoland is released on 1 December for people to enjoy at home, in schools and community spaces. Watch the video trailer here: https://www.pantoonline.co.uk/pantoland.