The Palladium panto was re-established as a Christmas tradition in 2016. Since then the few remaining elements of plot or character have been gradually removed each year so we’re now left with a kind variety show. This is not a criticism. Clearly the producers have realised that they will get best value from the likes of Julian Clary by giving them as much time as possible to do what they’re best at, without burdening them (and us) with mundane things like a story.
This year we are treated for the first time to the star being an international icon – Donny Osmond. No time is wasted in getting him on stage as he opens the show. There’s no doubt there is something quite magical about being in the beloved and world famous Palladium and hearing the name Donny Osmond announced as the curtains open to reveal the man himself.
The rest of the cast is comprised of what has become in effect the Palladium Panto Repertory Company. Gary Wilmot is the dame and his patter song naming all London’s tube stations (yes – including the new ones on the Elizabeth line) is spectacular. You feel you are witnessing something really special as well as amazing. Nigel Havers is the butt of jokes about his age and not really having a part in the show. Ventriloquist Paul Zerdin is a class act who delivers not only some great laughs but also a range of impressive set pieces including a brilliant moment when his puppet Sam is left in the hands (literally) of Donny Osmond. Cue carefully rehearsed mistakes and corpsing with resultant crowd pleasing hilarity.
Song and dance numbers are left in the more than capable hands of Sophie Issacs and Jac Yarrow, with support from the famous Tiller Girls.
There is, of course, one more person to mention. Julian Clary can, and does, turn the most apparently innocent phrases into complete filth. For example, “I’ve never done Aladdin” and “Put your hand up (pause). In the air!” In the most extravagant costumes he parades about the stage picking on either members of the audience or the cast with waspish remarks and put-downs which in turn bring the house down.
The cast appear to be having a really good time. In less skilled hands this could leave the audience feeling left out of the joke. Not here. The casual mayhem and supposed mistakes only work because this is a slick and hugely professional show that knows exactly what it’s doing and mines every comic opportunity to maximum effect through deft technique and spot-on timing.
My review is missing the fifth star only because, as a Palladium panto fan, I have seen most of this before. Don’t get me wrong, I love the company and wouldn’t want to lose any of them. But the addition of Donny Osmond created the opening for some fresh content and more of this would be welcome. Who knows which international superstar will be joining in the fun next year?
Pantoland is at the London Palladium until 9 January 2022.