I’m not sure how much money last year’s Comic Relief online panto (Cinderella) managed to raise. Presumably it was enough to encourage them to do it all over again – anyway, they have. This time it’s the charity’s take on Beauty And The Beast and this definitely has nothing to do with the Disney version (the cast is most insistent about that). I don’t know whether the intention is now for it to become an annual event. Personally, I think it should have been a one off but when you’re able to raise £900,000 (I just looked it up) for good causes then I suppose you’re bound to repeat what’s seen as a winning formula.
So, it’s exactly the same mix as last time and I pretty much feel the same way about the end result. Some well-respected actors and comedy performers appear as the main cast – Lily James, Celia Imrie, Oliver Chris, Sian Gibson, Pam Ferris – with occasional pop up appearances from others – Lenny Henry, David Tennant, Michael Sheen, Miranda Hart and, inevitably, David Walliams – who make requests for the audience to raid their bank balances. There’s one returning performer Guz Khan who was last year’s Buttons but has seemingly now been demoted to playing the dog/narrator Bonzo. There’s also the reappearance of a less than key character in the B & B tale, the pantomime horse Wheezy Jeff, behind whose mask supposedly lurks a major Hollywood talent. All is eventually revealed but no spoilers! Quentin Blake provides a new set of scene divider illustrations and Coldplay are pressed into service for the closing number.
And that last paragraph absolutely sums up what isn’t quite right with this whole enterprise. Really it’s little more than a procession of famous faces who have kindly donated their time but, not particularly their talents. Perhaps I’m expecting too much but it seems like the make it up as we go along aesthetic and the larking around to amuse each other wears tissue paper thin after the first ten minutes which is about how long it should have lasted. While I understood that the previous effort was probably hastily conceived and had to be pretty much thrown together, it seemed to me that a good deal of time could have been spent on planning and preparation this time round to produce something that was more satisfactory. It may not seem so at the moment, but there were significant sections of the past year when restrictions were eased sufficiently to have rehearsed and presented something that wasn’t so deliberately cheap and tacky. And, but for the charity angle and the names attached to the project, it would never have been considered for prime time telly viewing. Maybe the team would do well to investigate the newly announced MA Contemporary Pantomime Practice from Staffordshire University.
I’m not going to bother with looking at the storyline as a) I’m sure you’ll know it already and b) it’s merely a peg to hang the nonsense on. I can’t believe the dialogue took the usually talented Dawson Brothers long to rustle up either. Last year the claim was that nobody had seen the script in advance and there were no rehearsals and so the cast were plunging in sight unseen. No such assertion this year though you’d still be forgiven for thinking that this was the case. I thought last year’s effort was pretty flat but, if anything, this one lowered the bar even further. There are one or two wryly amusing moments but nothing that produced any lengthy bursts of hilarity. So, for much of the time I sat pretty much in stony faced silence thanking the Lord that it was only an hour long. Save yourself a precious sixty minutes but do please still donate to Comic Relief. Sorry but it’s a resounding “bah, humbug!” from me.