Lyric Hammersmith, London W6
Opened 28 November, 2009

In recent years, the Lyric Hammersmith’s Christmas shows have been either alternative versions of traditional pantomime tales or alternative tales altogether, but in his first year as artistic director Sean Holmes has opted to go back to conventional panto and simply update it a bit. Big mistake.
There are some nice touches: for once the main locus of gender-bending is not the dame but Javier Marzan of Peepolykus, who is at once cow and bull, and all Spanish. But while one or two adults in each audience might be amused by gags such as his panicked gibbering at one point descending into a recital of “To be or not to be...” in his native tongue, for much of the time the added Hispanicisms are not just gratuitous but inexplicable. Max Humphries has built an impressive giant Gog (voiced by Patrick Stewart), but having Gog run a marshmallow factory in the clouds is exactly the kind of Bowdlerism that last year’s Lyric Cinderella scorned with such flair. And why have a Union Jack motif running through the visuals yet rewrite the giant’s rhyme from “I smell the blood of an Englishman” to “...a Hammersmith man”?
Panto is at heart a traditional form; modernise it at your peril. This even goes for the music: the big highlights of the show are numbers such as “We Are Family” and “I Will Survive”, some 30 years after the zenith of disco. The insertion of a power ballad or two for the love affair between Jack and Jill is understandable if dull, but the conventional panto pit band frankly murders the contemporary R&B groove of Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)”, which is the most insanely ill-judged choice of finale number I can recall ever encountering.
As Jack’s mum, Martyn Ellis is not just any pantomime dame, but seems to be aiming specifically for a Christopher Biggins pantomime dame. Sean Kearns’ indefatigability is much needed, and as the villain’s goofy henchman Plug he earns the most valued player award. For the most part, though, director Steve Marmion, his cast and a team of writers including Richard Bean (no, really) and Joel Horwood all seem to know the ingredients of panto (except the spectacular transformation scene and the messy “slosh” routine, both missing here) without having any instinct for making them come alive.
Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

Return to index of reviews for the year 2009

Return to master reviews index

Return to main theatre page

Return to Shutters homepage