Pantoland at the Palladium - West End Review
Pantomimes are a staple of the British theatre industry, and after the last couple of years, a trip to the theatre for a couple of hours of laughter and entertainment is exactly what many families up and down the country need. Theatre may be struggling against the enforced closures and absences caused by the Omicron variant, but those who can continue to clown, continue to bring fairy tales to life on our beloved stages, continuing the tradition of pantomime.
The London Palladium is perhaps one of the most iconic homes of pantomime and variety, and this year panto returns to this famous stage with more glitz, more flair, and more celebrity appearances. ‘Pantoland at the Palladium’ provides all of that and more, celebrating all that is wonderful and all that is loved about this age-old tradition.
Pantomimes have never really been known for their full and well-developed storylines, but with ‘Pantoland at the Palladium’ makes it clear from the outset that it has no plot at all. This isn’t a story with characters and rise and fall, it is purely a celebration of pantomime, a series of sketches loosely connected by traditional stereotypes. There are no character names, no prince this or dame that, each performer is instead introduced with their real names, each playing a type of character associated with pantomime. You have the dame, played here by Gary Wilmott, the magical do-gooder played by the innuendo loving Julian Clary, the all-powerful wizard played here by Donny Osmond, the lovable fool played by Paul Zerdin and his puppet Sam, the odd one out played by Nigel Havers, the prince played by Jac Yarrow and the princess played by Sophie Isaacs.
With pantomime being famed for its big ensemble dance numbers, you may be surprised to discover that you won’t be finding any of that here at the palladium this year, for there is no ensemble. The famous Tiller Girls are here to join in with the fun but even they only get two dances. The celebrity filled cast is fantastic, and laughter is in amble supply, but this is about as far away from a normal festive pantomime as you can get.
Donny Osmond delights the audience as the pantomime wizard, reeling off many an Osmond hit, including ‘Let the Reason Be Love’, ‘Crazy Horses’ and ‘Puppy Love’ receiving rapturous applause from the crowd who were clearly very excited to see the legendary performer. Julian Clary is on fine form as usual, with innuendos sending laughter through the audience and his interactions with his cast mates bringing even more comedy to proceedings. Nigel Havers appears to be having the time of his life as he dons various different costumes, messes with his co-stars during a performance of the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ and jokes about a certain ‘wine and cheese party’ whilst ventriloquist Paul Zerdin has the audience in the palm of his hand throughout. To anyone who has seen palladium pantos over the recent years, some sketches may not be new but that doesn’t stop Gary Wilmott’s patter song where he names every tube station from being impressive. Other jokes may also be recycled from previous shows but as the saying goes ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’, they are still funny.
Jac Yarrow’s Prince and Sophie Isaac’s leading lady are perhaps a little underused if I am being honest, with both performing with grace and flair as both seem to be brushed aside for the sake of a faux heterosexual relationship joke. I can’t help but feel that a missed opportunity came into the second act where we do get a oh so brief glimpse of Jac Yarrow wearing his famous Joseph coat but when Donny Osmond performs ‘Any Dream will Do’, Yarrow is nowhere to be seen. I, for one, would have loved to see these two Josephs performing this iconic song side by side, but perhaps comedy was chosen over sentimentality here.
Pantomime may normally be sold as family entertainment, but in the case of ‘Pantoland at the Palladium’, it might be best to leave the little ones out of this one. With no story for them to follow along with, a lack of songs that little ones would know and a lack of big dance numbers, Pantoland instead relies on naughty jokes and cheeky innuendos. It may not be sold as one, but this is definitely a show for the grown-ups and wouldn’t be classed as family entertainment.
Overall ‘Pantoland at the Palladium’ is thoroughly entertaining and will make you laugh until your sides hurt, but it takes the whole panto being a fairy tale themed variety show thing to a whole new extreme. It reminds us of what there is to love about panto, the music, the comedy, the magic, all without actually being a pantomime. It’s great fun and will leave you smiling, but for me, it also left me wanting to see a more traditional pantomime.
Photo credit – Paul Coltas