Thursday, 24 December 2020

REVIEW: Damian's Pop Up Panto at the Sheffield Lyceum (Online)

As so much of the country moves into tier 3 and tier 4 this December even those Pantomimes that were planning to try and run this year were forced to close and some were brave and bold enough to try capturing the shows for streaming to us in our homes. The Sheffield Lyceum Pantomime produced by Paul Hendy's Evolution is usually one of the finest shows of the season and won Best Pantomime (750-1500 seats) in 2018 & 2020 and best musical supervision for James Harrison in the 2020 Awards. Damian Williams won best Dame in 2017, so it is perhaps only natural that Hendy and Williams should plan to stage a socially distanced pantomime inspired show this year. The result, Damian's Pop Up Panto is an energetic, fun entertainment that pays tribute to some of the traditional pantomime stories and jokes. It distils the essence of Panto and makes it the centre of the show at the Lyceum's sister venue. 

It gets off to an amusing start as Paul Hendy, who wrote and directed the show, rushes around the Sheffield Crucible's backstage areas to introduce the five cast members and the Musical Director. The Crucible's thrust stage with seating on three sides provides a good open space to capture the show and socially distance performers with Harrison's one man band positioned on the fourth side and there was a small audience present to provide some reaction to the jokes.

Dame Dolly played by Damian Williams is an experienced large than life Dame and here runs the Panto Emporium from which Professor Von BadApple ( Lucas Rush) plans to steal the props and the essence of Panto. Can the Dame with the help of her son Billy (Joe Tracini) and heroine Jill (Gemma Sutton) stop him? Can they do it? Oh Yes they can, with the help of the Fairy, Deborah Tracey. This thin plot line provides the connection between a series of clever new jokes and classic old gags which are brilliantly delivered by the cast. They know how to point the joke, repeating the set up line before delivering the punchline, to maximise the effect. The show has plenty of Covid jokes, those that "take two weeks to see if you get it" and mocks the shortage of toilets rolls by making them the item the audience must watch to stop it being stolen. It also pokes fun at the awful Government Advert for 'non essential jobs', such as actors, retraining by referencing Fatima. 

There could have been more of the traditional Pantomime sketch routines and even the promised ghost bench scene did not make the final cut. However the cleverly written trolley of props to support a monologue is rewritten into a well executed tale featuring puns based on images of well known celebrities and is one of the show highlights. Another good excuse for a string of silly and clever punchlines is the machine that Dolly straps on her head . Hendy also reminds us of all the pantomime titles with references to Snow White (the apple), Wizard of Oz (Robot's voice) and Jack and the Beanstalk (bag of dust). 

Music plays a large part in all Pantomime and with the excitable and energetic James Harrison in charge, including a unicycle ride across the stage, various tunes have lyrics rewritten for upbeat and amusing songs. Even though the sound mix on the recording between the music and vocals was not perfect they provide some enjoyable moments. The Fairy raps, BadApple gets to sing a Hamilton parody of "I'll be back", there is a very good "Don't stop believing" dance and a Blues Brothers Finale. Evolution's also pays tribute to the great double acts with Morecambe and Wise's "Bring me sunshine" and Cannon and Ball's "Laugh me a Laugh". 

It runs to ninety minutes including the backstage prologue, could perhaps have been 15 minutes shorter, but is an entertaining reminder of what we are missing, delivered with energy and enthusiasm by people who know and love pantomime. As one character says, what is Pantomime? It is pure joy, quirky humour, warm energy, familiarity and nostalgic. And if that is the essence of Pantomime these masters capture it perfectly. We can't wait to get back in the theatres next year to see the real thing.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Online | Price of Ticket: £15
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