'Pantoland at the Palladium' review — Christmas with a little Donny Osmond flair
A self-aware show is always a good time, especially in panto season. So when Julian Clary introduces a scene in Pantoland at the Palladium by saying it's from Dick Whittington in 2017, everyone laughs it off, knowing full well this show isn’t trying to be high art. A panto is simply for entertaining an audience and bringing families and friends together to laugh. Honestly who can blame Pantoland for being a night of much-needed light-hearted fun in these times? The best way to spread festive cheer is by congregating in a theatre, and this Christmas, Pantoland at the Palladium is the place to do it.
Before the show started, the audience were clearly in the mood for a good time. (I even saw a group of friends wearing Christmas lights around their necks. During the show, a woman got up and danced at every opportunity (maybe inspired by Emma Thompson at the Adele concert, staged at the Palladium just a few weeks ago?). Clearly the audience lapped up Pantoland: every joke, innuendo, corpse, dance move, and the crowd erupted in applause for all the ridiculous Nigel Havers costumes. But for a show called Pantoland at the Palladium, there’s one thing this show isn’t — and that’s a pantomime.
A pantomime is a family-friendly musical comedy, typically performed at Christmastime. Pantoland does honour the Palladium’s history of pantomimes and iconic acts. Posters of decades-old shows adorn the proscenium arch, and Sophie Isaacs mentions Danny La Rue, who played Widow Twankey in a 1978 Aladdin pantomime, before a soaring Aladdin-inspired Act One closer from Clary and Jac Yarrow. The Tiller Girls are back at the Palladium too, high kicking their way through dazzling, Rockette-inspired numbers. Pantoland has a heart of gold, but it’s a highlight reel of shows gone by, rather than offering anything new.
Julian Clary, Nigel Havers, Gary Wilmot, and Paul Zerdin return for another year of Pantoland fun, guaranteeing a good time at the theatre. Between them, they have the audience in the palm of their hands — especially in a Gary Wilmot solo, where he sings the names of all 272 London Underground stations. Occasionally, Pantoland feels tiresome — Zerdin’s skits dragged ever so slightly, and Clary’s constant innuendos, hilarious as they were, became a bit much. Perhaps it’s a flaw in the fact that Pantoland lacks a story that it can feel like they’ve fitted in too many gags without allowing for the free nature of audience interaction — a key part of pantomimes.
There’s one new addition to this year’s celebrations. Donny Osmond as the “Wizard of Pantomime” brings magic to the Palladium, turning the audience into a gaggle of screaming teenagers. He’s a panto natural, and in a scene with Paul Zerdin’s puppet, Sam, there's plenty of “Puppet Love.” The Act Two Donny Osmond greatest hits medley will simply remain a fever dream that I'll never fully process. I don’t think this is the last we’ll see of Osmond in a Palladium panto.
Visually, Pantoland at the Palladium is a glossy, striking affair. Ian Westbrook’s set design, Ben Cracknell’s lighting design, and Hugh Durrant’s costume design complement each other, resulting in a grand variety show to honour Palladium pantomime as an institution. Dig a little deeper into Pantoland, and it’s almost too clean for comfort. The joy of pantomime can come in the mistakes, and with no room for error, Pantoland is too pristine for its own good. Even so, and to change a Donny Osmond lyric, I love theatre for a reason, let the reason be pantomime.
Photo credit: Pantoland cast (Photo by Paul Coltas)