Panto is not just for Christmas, did you know, as the season runs as far into February in some areas of the country. As an amdram practitioner myself, when you read this, I shall be in the last month of directing my local village affair (pass the Prozac please) so it’s always good to pick up some tips.
And there’s probably no better place to start than the great Lily Savage (by kind permission of Paul O’Grady) who graced the new theatre space, of which more later, at the 02. Savage delivers the
part of Widow Twankey with the assuredness of one born to play the role. Playing the audience like a fiddle, the panto dame treats visitors mean but demands our sympathy, hilariously picking on a member of the audience to marry her son Aladdin. ‘What’s your name, love?’ ‘Pauline.’ (dramatic pause, hint of a sigh) ‘Bit boring. But Pauline Twankey does have a bit of a ring to it.’
Great panto demands a great audience and this one was filled with adults who joined in the parts sporadically. A shame really because there was plenty of classic fun: the gorgeous Issy van Randwyck showing her class as Slave of the Ring in You’ve Got A Friend in Me (my particular favourite) and the brilliant Ping and Pong’s verbal table tennis (Mr Who, Mr What and Mr I Don’t Know).
Gay jokes – ‘I’ve come out’ Aladdin (Jon Lee) says to applause – seem to have replaced mother in law jokes. Don’t mind this at all though some of the more topical one-liners went above the heads of my young companions. They had seen Cinderella in their local town theatre earlier that day and said the jokes had been better there.
Some work is required if the O2 is to make a success of the cavernous pop-up theatre in the confines of this enormous fun palace in east London It was draughty, the sound quality patchy and those seated around the sides would have had problems seeing all the action. Queuing for a drink in the bar took me back to long waits at festivals, surely the cause of a late start to the second act.
Still, as a genre, there is no better way to introduce young audience to the stage; long may it last.