Sunday, 4 December 2022

REVIEW: Pantoland, the online streamed Pantomime

Peter Duncan, the former Blue Peter presenter and chief scout, and a director and Dame for many stage pantomimes has a great deal of experience in engaging young children and in 2020 his company Jack be nimble produced Jack and the Beanstalk in his garden and surrounding area and followed up in 2021 with Cinderella in multiple locations. They were excellent ways of bringing the Pantomime genre into people’s homes through streaming and entertaining young families in their sitting rooms. This year he has drawn on both the experience of those two films and his years as a Children’s entertainer to create Pantoland featuring chiefly himself as a Dame and written and directed by himself with Director of Photography Luke Roberts and music by Colin Cottle.

The result is a well-shot and edited mash-up of creative ideas and techniques based very loosely on Pantomime characters and business without any coherent thread or narrative running through it. It might have been better as if reading a video book with different chapters telling different short stories, like a modern-day Playschool or watch with mother. Chapter headings would have made good placeholders to stop as without a running narrative it is quite a long hour watch for an adult! It feels like the sort of programme that would sit quite happily on CBeebies or used as an audition tape for any number of Children's programmes!

There are many good elements in the production. Duncan’s costumes and hats for Dame Dolly Doughnut are magnificent with some slick edits to change costumes in his opening number ”Pantoland” and he knows how to play the audience as Dame, although the absence of any sound from the audience does mute some of the business. He has fun in sequences of a flying carpet edited onto the rural countryside, in a sketch about Captain Hook messing about on the river and silly sequence learning to paddle board with Clare Hadley, which I hope was shot in warmer days!

The animation sequence about Alexis produced by Andy Zermanski is a beautifully drawn and painted watercolour cartoon about a boy who meets his spirit guides and joins a circus. It is a charming segment of illustrations. Alexis appears in person (his son, Arthur Duncan) in another segment as a boy in Quantum Physics and as a puppet in a Bakery skit designed by Julie Westwood. It has the feel of a Punch and Judy seaside show combined with a traditional pantomime slosh scene and is quite fun and attractively staged. For once, the editing allowed a cake on a window shelf to magically reappear and disappear by accident.

Occasionally it ventures into more serious messaging with a topicality to the COP 27 climate conference as the ABC company explores the idea of creating energy from sound and using the profits to support small countries affected by poverty and climate change, as Duncan says, “it’s a tale of our times”. The traditional pantomime routine of the 12 days of Christmas gets a reworking in a well-staged routine using windows for each day and we get the traditional song sheet singalong in “Daddy Longlegs”

The overall effect is that this is a perfect watch for young children on a cold afternoon at home, but I miss the strong narrative of the previous two films and the inventive way they developed the pantomime for the streamed genre. Perhaps it has a role in showing first-time pantomime goers what to expect before going to see a live show so parents can decide whether they are ready to enjoy a two-hour visit or perhaps an end-of-term treat for primary school kids. Either way, give it a try to see how your kids react.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Online Stream | Price of Ticket: £10
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