Pantoland (Review)

Pantoland (Review)


Suddenly it’s December so it must be panto time. “Oh no it isn’t” “Oh yes it is”, etc. Like everything else about Christmas these days, pantomimes are now staple fare from as early as they can be to as late as they can be – even those which come exclusively in digital form. I’m not sure how long it takes to create a “tradition” but Panto Online is now in its third year of doing what it says on the tin and producing a family show that keeps alive the spirit of that most British of entertainments. Born out of necessity during the pandemic, Blue Peter alumnus and pantomime dame expert Peter Duncan follows up his Jack And The Beanstalk and Cinderella with something that is rather looser in format but brings in several of the expected aspects and characters from the world of children’s stories. But, bah humbug!, the result is rather less than sensational.

Screenshot (9)

In truth this latest offering is rather a rag baggy mish mash with no coherent storyline. I mean OK, pantomime can always be a bit like that but here there isn’t even a pretence at getting it all to coalesce. There’s just a succession of set pieces threaded together by the “adventures” of Dame Dolly Doughnut (Peter Duncan, himself – undeniably energetic) and not all of these are successful. In a regular pantomime the dame is just one of the many elements that provide balance and go to make up a satisfying whole. Here, though the whole concept revolves around the one character and it’s too much of a good thing. At one stage it seems like panto is abandoned altogether for a section which has more in keeping with Jackanory. This is the narrated and illustrated story of Alexis which, oddly, is a political fable about a repressive regime fronted by a horrible dictator with world domination ambitions – can’t imagine who they are thinking of! Although this Alexis resurfaces both live in the form of Arthur Duncan (Peter’s son) and as a puppet he’s not a traditional pantomime figure so the whole idea sits uneasily within the format and only serves to highlight the bitty nature of what is on offer.

Peter Duncan - Panto Online (photo credit Gordon Render)_1

More in keeping with expectations are encounters with Aladdin (Tazmin-May Gebbett), Captain Hook (Duncan in male guise for once) and Mr Smee (Kevin Osborne) but these are essentially separate sketches with no attempt to integrate them into any consistent plot. Beyond that there are a couple of puppet/muppet shows which come across as decidedly amateurish, an interminably unfunny version of The Twelve Days Of Christmas and a final sing along where production values seem to have been abandoned altogether. Duncan  – still in full drag – fills in some gaps by revisiting his “have a go” Blue Peter days when Dolly learns to paddleboard, has a try at water skiing and goes zip wiring around on a magic carpet. Apparently the latter was filmed on the hottest day of the summer – which must have been fun! As in the previous pair of shows much of what happens has been transposed to the great outdoors and I daresay that the water based sequences must have come as a great relief as Duncan throws himself into proceedings with his customary abandon but what they have to do with pantomime is anybody’s guess. He also parades through the piece in a  dazzling array of detailed dame outfits – Natalie Beaumont’s nifty costume design is highly commendable, great on detail (it’s worth hitting the pause button now and then) and are the undoubted stand out in this otherwise beleaguered show.

I am sorry to say it, but the law of diminishing returns seems to have come into play. Having enjoyed both the last two years of Panto Online’s offerings this, mercifully short, third iteration seems like an ill-conceived, badly structured misfire. Perhaps Duncan as writer, star, director, song writer and prop maker is trying too hard to do too much.  Parts of the show might well entertain the very young – and it would definitely be easy enough and probably even preferable to watch it in short bursts. But if you’re looking for a proper panto experience then head for one of the other two previous and still available pantos – or, now that it’s possible once more, perhaps venture out to your local theatre for the real McCoy.

Photos by Gordon Render
This review first appeared in abridged form on the website of LTR

Pantoland  (along with Jack And The Beanstalk and Cinderella) is available via the Panto Online website; click here

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