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Potted Panto at the Garrick Theatre, London | Review

This 70-minute romp through most of the major pantos combined with an unpacking of some of the more bonkers aspects of our national Christmastide tradition is hilarious. Don’t expect big song and dance numbers or a cast of thousands but do look forward to razor-sharp sketch-style wit and some very clever staging providing a raucous good time for kids and adults alike. Of the Christmassy and family stuff I’ve reviewed so far this season, Potted Panto, written by Daniel Clarkson, Jefferson Turner and Richard Hurst, is in the running as my favourite to date – amongst formidable competition.

Daniel Clarkson and Gary Trainor: Photo by Geraint Lewis.My 9-year-old son and co-critic (a fan of Sponge Bob and Annoying Orange) was consumed with laughter and excitement throughout. I had my own belly laughs and was impressed by how much can happen in the two weeks since The Telegraph decried the Lyric Hammersmith’s excellent Aladdin as ‘woke overreach’ simply for a little light ribbing of a thatch-haired government leader (perhaps unaware that topical political mockery is a staple of panto, irrespective of governing party). Fast forward a fortnight and I witnessed the Garrick’s packed (and hardly Trotskyite) audience burst into spontaneous and prolonged applause at the modern-day barbs delivered by Daniel Clarkson and Gary Trainor as they sashayed through the Dick Whittington story. I wonder whether it’s a bellwether moment when families from the home counties and outer London suburbs offer such a fulsome ovation or if it’s simply a reflection of the quality of the comedy itself – or both? What is certain is that Clarkson and Trainor as a double act have commanding comedy timing and a precise, Vaudevillian schtick that is thoroughly silly and not remotely stupid.

Having attended a fair share of children’s shows as parental caretaker, I was delighted to enjoy a family show that offered wit for my own gratification along with an energy and engagement pleasingly tuned to kids’ frequencies. I did not have to endure the static of juvenile toilet humour nor any moralising schmaltz but still felt both amused and festive. Three generations of my family, spanning 68 years, were each entertained in our own way by different but not competing aspects of the production.

Richard Hurst’s direction along with Simon Scullion’s canny set and Nicky Bunch’s jovial costumes build a mad-capped world with plenty of sight-gags. Whilst Potted Panto plants its tongue firmly in cheek, it is not an iconoclastic attack on this beloved mainstream British tradition. Despite the odd in-joke (like calling for the Equity rep for on-stage malfeasance) and plenty of self-deprecation, this show also still retains some of the quiddity of panto itself – finding a savvier way to build tension and frustration than feigning to misunderstand warnings of ‘he’s behind you‘. The net effect is you get all the goofiness of panto without any threat of feeling you’ve dumbed yourself down or adulterated the formula with too much high-brow intrusion. This show is a meta-panto for people who both adore and despise the genre. With precious little else unifying the nation, Potted Panto is a treat.

5 Star Rating

Review by Mary Beer

Seven classic pantomimes in 70 hilarious minutes!

The Olivier Award-nominated festive celebration Potted Panto is back for five weeks only.

In a madcap ride through the biggest stories and best-loved characters from the wonderful world of pantomime, our dastardly double act dash from rubbing Aladdin’s lamp to roaming the golden streets of Dick Whittington’s London and making sure that Cinderella gets to the Ball.

It’s all unmissable fun, whether you’re six or 106.

Potted Panto
Garrick Theatre, London
Currently Booking to 9th January 2022

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  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

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