Venue: Vanbrugh Dining Hall
Producer: Lowrie Robertson & Simon Lewis
Director: Louise Jones & Gabrielle James
Without pantomime, we are nothing. We are shadows of our former selves and oppressed subjects who, after of course our need for food and sanitation, will crave desperately just one more chance to say, “He’s behind you.” If pantomime is forbidden we will cower in our prison cells whilst the need for pantomime bubbles desperately inside us, waiting for one chance to emerge.
This is the concept on which Pantsoc’s Pantomime Redemption decided to base itself. A character based on Shawshank Redemption’s Andy Dufresne is imprisoned for daring to utter a pantomime chant during a performance of “La crise existentielle”, a much more serious play in a world where pantomime is resolutely banned. He is sent to prison for fifty years by Judge Judy in a leotard; he is forced to associate with the lowliest of criminals in the deepest depths of Pantanamo Bay. He must escape, reclaim his dignity and find his romantic love partner, but not before encountering a cross section of pantomime characters and seeing first-hand the deadly consequences of a world stripped of pantomime.
The idea is ostensibly far-reaching and ambitious. Pantomime Redemption even tries to answer the question of why pantomime exists as an art form. Warden McGregor, the pantomime drag queen who ironically refuses to allow the mimetic art form, states, “I do not see the necessity of fun”. Pantomime Redemption muses on the legitimacy of its own art form: it asserts the reason for its own existence by depicting a world in which it exists in a repressed way.
Yet Pantomime Redemption is definitely a pantomime. The pantomime drag queen is played beautifully by Matthew Corry: he is an extraverted, charismatic presence. The role of the pantomime horse is inverted cleverly; the choreography is just about flamboyant and dynamic enough.
And even within this convoluted format PantSoc cleverly hold on to their traditional model of double-entendre, campus-related humour and pastiches of things that we had forgotten need mockery but do need mockery.
Yet the strange framing device occasionally felt like an obstacle, the jokes often fell flat, and the characters were sometimes laborious to keep up with. The dialogue could have been delivered more fluently. The compositions were interesting but whilst turning U2’s “Beautiful Day” into “Pantanamo Bay” is creative, the songs were often very close to the original, such as Andy Dufresne (Rory Cartwright)’s rendition of “I would do anything for love”.
Yet these are only the usual criticisms of pantomimes. I was pleased when I got a joke that was subtle: I loved the Kate Bush parody, which lasted only a few seconds but was perfect; little things like this help give the essential enthusiasm needed to enjoy the barrage of humour which amasses before you.
I was very curious as to how they could possibly recreate the success of January’s Peter Pan. PantSoc had no musical to mock and the pantomime itself was essentially anachronistic. The essential strength is that the actors have managed to fall into a more natural rhythm, and although less extravagant than earlier pantomimes, Pantomime Redemption turned out to be an essentially entertaining collection to the portfolio of eccentricity that has been steadfastly maintained by PantSoc.