The London Palladium ★★★★✩
WE COME every year,’ said the man who was with his wife and two children a few rows from the stage. ‘It’s how we know it’s Christmas.’
Ah, the power of panto. Though this is not just any panto. This is the behemoth of the season, which for the past three years has seen Julian Clary dominating the Palladium in the freakiest costumes. He fires broadsides of eye-watering smut and withering insults at all within range.
This year’s villain is superb Dawn French as Queen Dragonella who attempts to win the body if not the heart of (a different) Prince Harry (Charlie Stemp) and also kill the competition — Snow White (Over The Rainbow’s Danielle Hope). The irrelevant plot sees Clary as the looking glass, who tells home truths to Dragonella about her not being the fairest of them all.
Meanwhile, Gary Wilmot is his usual uncommonly masculine dame, ventriloquist Paul Zerdin is back with his snarky alter ego puppet Sam and Nigel Havers is once again the butt of jokes about his waning star status — or as Clary calls him, ‘the poor man’s Jeremy Irons’.
Eventually this snowy show begins to drift. It’s as much a variety show as a panto, which has its pros and cons: the tongue twisting set-pieces are as fun as ever, but the random vaulting gymnasts and gyrating dancers suggest an absence of ideas. Pantoland’s most extravagant show will need an injection of invention if families are to keep returning, though Clary’s camp will forever reign supreme.