POTTED PANTO at Wilton’s Music Hall
“Basically, you’ve just got to see it to believe it.”
Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner (thereinafter referred to as Dan and Jeff) take on the task of presenting six-and-a-half popular pantomimes in the space of eighty minutes. They’ve been doing it for some years now, so are probably getting quite adept. Just to show off, immediately after the interval they summarise the first act (a mere four pantomimes) in three minutes. ‘Potted Potted Panto’ they call it. They don’t stop there – they then recap (donning their ‘recap caps’) in one minute. Yes, you guessed: ‘Potted Potted Potted Panto’. It goes on. Until breathlessly they somehow revert to the task in hand. This is their modus operandi. They are constantly having to rein each other in, pulling themselves away from the many digressions and bizarre, surreal, outlandish embellishments they have piled thick and fast onto the traditional stories. It is a miracle that they are condensed at all, what with the sheer number of laugh-out-loud moments packed in.
Dan and Jeff are a slick duo. Vaudevillian, but a touch more risqué. Morecambe and Wise but with the more modern, anarchic chaos of Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson. Deep down we know that this show has been rehearsed to a tee, but it feels like a rampage. One that is forever teetering on the verge of collapse. The popular titles they have chosen are ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, ‘Dick Whittington’, ‘Snow White’, ‘Sleeping Beauty’, ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Aladdin’. Ah, yes, the ones we know and love. Except that after witnessing Dan and Jeff’s interpretation we cease to know them – but love them even more. At Dan’s insistence, ‘A Christmas Carol’ is shoehorned in (hilariously mashed up with ‘Aladdin’ – I shall say nothing!). Strictly speaking, Dickens’ Victorian classic is not a pantomime. Jeff feels the need to point this out. Neither is the Nativity. Nor the John Lewis Christmas advert, nor the Doctor Who Christmas Special.
Dan concedes. And so, the roller coaster ride begins. Caught in the cyclone of activity are dozens of costume changes that more or less keep up with the plot twists. Our perceptions of the fairy tales we grew up with are not just stretched but snapped clean in two. We are in a world where giant moose lay golden eggs and Dick Whittington conquers London in his shiny green hotpants and thigh high boots. Where fairy God-chickens wave their magic baguettes and dinosaurs wander into Sleeping Beauty’s bramble-thick garden. Where the ghost of Christmas Present is summoned from a genie’s lamp… I could go on and list every bizarre twist, joke, reference, visual pun, innuendo, satirical zeitgeist. But it would take all day. And you wouldn’t believe it anyway so there’s no such thing as a spoiler for this show. I could hand you the script word for word and you’d be none the wiser. Basically, you’ve just got to see it to believe it.
Written by the pair (along with Richard Hurst) it is, despite all evidence to the contrary, an exceedingly witty and intelligent creation. The intricate balancing act of the language and the humour aims straight for the ‘grown ups’ and the ‘little ones’ simultaneously without any confusion being whipped up in the crossfire. It is difficult to decipher who is enjoying it the most as the laughter from each generation vies for supremacy in the auditorium. Similarly, it is a joy to witness the performers having just as much of a ball as the audience. Even when they are corpsing they are in command. They don’t really need it, but aid comes intermittently in the shape of stage manager, Sammy Johnson, who adopts a couple of idiosyncratic characters of his own. And Marie-Claire Wood matches their comic flair wordlessly, before stunning us with her beautiful singing voice.
If I were to put down on paper what this show is about (oh, hang on – that’s exactly what I’m doing) I’d be wary about letting anybody read it. I don’t think it would make much sense. What would make less sense, though, would be to miss this sensational, seasonal show. Even if the show itself makes no sense. But that’s the beauty of it. ‘Tis the season to be silly. Or is it jolly? Anyway, “Potted Panto” is jolly silly. ‘Potted’ – according to the dictionary – has more than one meaning: 1. Shortened. 2. Intoxicated. Well – that says it all.
POTTED PANTO at Wilton’s Music Hall
Reviewed on 1st December 2023
by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Geraint Lewis
Previously reviewed at this venue: