As the lights darkened inside the Greenwich Theater, my companion turned to me and whispered, “Is this one of those pantos starring some sort of washed up soap star?” “No,” I said, “That’s not really what they do here.” “Oh,” she said, “do you mean they actually hire people who can act?” “Yes,” I said, “and they can sing and dance, too.”
And yes, for it was the annual Andrew Pollard panto extravaganza, a.k.a. the Greenwich Panto, this year manifesting itself as Jack and the Beanstalk. Looking at the fairly simple set (front drop with snowy village; town consisting of two angles with a well), you couldn’t help but notice the difference between this and the glitter-ganza of the Richmond panto. Twenty courtiers, including acrobats? Here we had about six townspeople in total, all of whom looked like they may not have quite graduated from acting school yet. And with all of the extra curliques taken off, we’re forced to focus on what is in front of us; a simple, jolly setting for having a good time. We are told jokes old (the one about Jack’s father being squashed is at least 50 years long in the tooth) and new (the dame says when she knocked on the castle door, she said she was from UKIP “and they let me right in”), rehash physical comedy routines that are still just extremely giggle inducing (the rocking, farting couch just slayed me), and get to have a singalonga. The height of excitement (for me) for the evening was the end of act one, when the whole cast (including Daisy the cow puppet, hysterical and so adorable) came on stage to do an updated “Bohemian Rhapsody” with lyrics that cunningly mirrored the original while making it clear Jack was just going to have to climb that beanstalk. It was really worth the price of admission and a moment of pure panto madness, the kind I wait for all year.
Some time during the middle I asked, “So is this a good panto or a bad panto?” and my friend said, “There is no good or bad in panto: they are all inherently panto.” Well, some pantos are more panto than other, and if you want one that’s going to have you laughing, singing, and wiping the tears away, I highly advise a visit to Greenwich this Christmas season. And don’t feel too bad for Alim Jayda: I think he loves being a baddie.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, December 18th, 2014. It continues until about January 11th.)