“They laughed at me when I said I wanted to be a jester. Well, they’re not laughing now,” quips Sean Dodd’s clown. The irony’s made double because neither are the audience, at first. But writers JP McCue and Janice Dunn’s tactic of dialling down the innuendo and turbo-charging the so-bad-they’re-good (-or-are-they-just-bad?) puns eventually works its charm, and makes the full journey from cringe-worthy to endearing.
Much of this is thanks to McCue’s exemplary dame. A Leamington panto regular, she’s a no-bullshit drag diva – skilled at working a crowd, quick with on-the-spot gags, not immune to a spot of corpsing. It’s a very funny performance.
This is by-the-book panto, carried out with flair and artistry. The musical numbers are full of show tune slickness, buoyed by Louise Redmond’s colourful choreography. Tim Clare’s suitably garish lighting design produces pools of hot pink and vomit green, and he pulls off a really quite terrifying coup with an enormous UV-lit dragon puppet.
Similarly, the moment in which a poisoned spinning wheel is revealed from within a giant present box manages to be genuinely uncanny. It’s these vivid moments of theatrical inventiveness which add unexpected texture to this first-rate panto.