The Panto That Nearly Never Was at Theatr Clwyd online | Review

I’m not sure if there are any pantomime purists out there, but they may boo and hiss at the very thought of the baddie in The Panto That Nearly Never Was being cooperative from the outset. In this most extraordinary of years for theatre, Bella Trix (Alice McKenna) doesn’t even have an evil laugh, although she implies social distancing of sorts has been going on in pantomime for centuries: rarely do the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ beings with magical powers mix. But here, she and Maybelline (Chioma Uma) form a Christmas bubble, together with Dame Deni Dolittle (Dan Lloyd) and her son Dylan (Ben Locke, who skilfully gets some good punchlines in without stealing the limelight from his stage mum). The three-household group want to save pantomime, and I trust it is not too much of a spoiler to state that there’s a happy ending.

TPTNNW - Theatr Clwyd - Credit Ffotonant
TPTNNW – Theatr Clwyd – Credit Ffotonant

The songs chosen are mostly ones I recognised without having to look up – a slight concern, as it happens, if only because the younger age groups in the audience may not be familiar with them. Incorporating the likes of Talking Heads, Madness and Aerosmith gives the show a slight jukebox musical feel, and I think this is the first time I’ve come across ‘Dude (Looks Like A Lady)’ in a pantomime, despite its incredible aptness in practically any panto.

The opening sequence is a rare opportunity to see what goes on backstage and in the cast’s dressing rooms. The production makes extensive use of actor-musicians, with the band almost always visible on stage. There’s something highly topical about Dame Phyllis (Phylip Harries) appearing on screen, in the sense that this has been the year that many have grappled with the likes of Zoom and Microsoft Teams (and other video-conferencing services). Aligning with the message from politicians that people all over the world are grappling with a common enemy, the production raises a proverbial middle finger to the proposition that a panto would be boring if the good ‘uns and the bad ‘uns united in harmony as a starting point. A show for 2020 indeed.

There may not have been pies in people’s faces (though at one point the water pistols did come out), and in line with other pantos this season, calls and responses were thin on the ground. But the show (sort of) made up for that in its enthusiasm and freshness. Tony the Town Crier (Luke Thornton) was in tears (or tiers, geddit?) over the loss of the usual pantomime season, while Helena Henderson (Lynwen Haf Roberts) proved to be a friendly host to the three households arriving at their destination after a (supposedly) arduous journey.

There were corny jokes aplenty, and the costumes were suitably colourful. Short and sweet, it’s an unusual but jolly experience.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Inspired by the Theatr Clwyd team’s sadness at having to cancel Beauty and the Beast and penned by award-winning panto playwright Christian Patterson, The Panto That Nearly Never Was follows Bella Trix the Witch as she realises that she doesn’t have a job and so enlists the help of Dame, sidekick, fairy and wizard to try and save panto.

17 December 2020 – 3 January 2021

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