[Review:] POTTED PANTO, Apollo Theatre, London.
I will start by stating that this pantomime has distinctly little appeal for children, despite welcoming so many into the house. From "oui oui hole", "Dick's huge Whittington", "Prince Charming's Balls" and other such double-entendre-based jokes to political quips, ironic feminist teachings and other sexual innuendoes, its material is distinctly mature. The chariot race, I would say, alongside the general existence of puppets, colourful costumes and projectile sweeties, are the only elements that show true consideration of the children in the audience. Of course, a pantomime must appeal to both adults and children and such adult content is not inherently problematic; this performance, however, fails to balance its adult content with that suitable for and enjoyable to children.
Comedic content is also somewhat repetitive throughout: common social profiles, late entrances and missed cues, interrupted skits, or, most significantly, the constant deconstruction of pantomime. This latter works entirely against the creatives: having explained the context of the skit, then interrupting the skit to start all over again, then moving swiftly on to the next thing…all comedic potential is entirely thwarted in this manner.
The main costumes are particularly irksome in this performance. It is beyond all reason that the two hosts should be dressed in sports uniforms, both pedestrian enough to feel out of place in their performance context yet obnoxious enough to clash with the costume pieces lain overtop. A few other costumes are simply undercooked, and not in a hilarious way: Other costumes, however, are most humorous and transportive: Cinderella, Prince Charming, and sleeping beauty's evil fairy.
This performance aims to be eclectic, to offer great variety and yet lacks the framework necessary to refine, shape, structure and give identity to it. As it stands, it is merely chaotic and voiceless. Of course, the intention is to present a series of various pantomimes in quick succession, but the stories are simply skimmed over, replaced by completely unrelated skits that could be attributed to any pantomime at all or, worse, by a mere summarising narration. I would recommend far more attention be given to the stories presented; after all, this is the only objective of the show: to portray several pantomimes in one sitting.
In terms of performance style, Daniel Clarkson is certainly far more expressive than Jefferson Turner, and this is jarring to watch at times. Especially with Clarkson performing longer solo skits – Prince Charming's monologues, his one-man reenactment of the King Rat and Cat's fight or his huge offstage monologue during the Cinderella story, to name a few – the comedic content is emphatically delivered by Clarkson over Turner, and this is a huge issue for a performance presenting two entirely equal hosts. Not only is Clarkson more expressive, having intenser physicality, but Turner rather underplays his characters. This sense of underplaying is most notable in the ambit of his gaze: Clarkson performs to the entire house, looking up to the circle, across the stalls, etc.; Turner merely performs outwardly, just above the stalls and just below the circle, in a comfort zone where no audience member should actually reside. All of this is unaided by his propensity to stumble over his lines. I would pay close attention to this discrepancy in the duo's performativity and to this lack of eye contact on Turner's part.
As voiced by the hosts in the performance, it is, ironically, most peculiar that Charlotte Payne and Jacob Jackson should appear as unmarkedly as they do. Their appearances are also serious, not comedic or self-referential: Payne performs and sings beautifully as the fairy, and Jackson plays his roles with little metatheatrical self-reflection. In this manner, these two performers are most ill-incorporated into this show, despite how well they perform.
I will say, however, that comedic timing is impeccable and that one-liners are well conceived, congruous and well delivered. Clarkson is a most energised and captivating performer, committing to the ludicrousness of his roles wonderfully. The duo do have a good chemistry, but I would work on allowing this to feel less artificial in places. Puppets are wonderfully crafted, and the majority of costumes are equally well designed. The set design is notably lacking, however, which is slightly made up for with the abundance of props, but this emphasises any moments where physicality and expressivity are lacking.