REVIEW: A Pair of Pantos, Marlborough Theatre, 20/12/2018

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a pair of pantos

Director: Hester Chillingworth

Cast: Hester Chillingworth, Nicki Hobday, Peter Hobday, Subira Wahogo

Deliriously inventive, A Pair Of Pantos delivers with panache all the things you expect of a panto, while it also does something more.

It’s a moral tale, yes; it’s filled with all the ‘behind you’ stuff of the age-old panto tradition; it’s a multiple, meta-panto mash-up – yes, seen a few of those; it’s also an ‘alternative’ panto with a message to impart about gender and personal identity, fluidity, acceptance and recognition of trans and non-binary personhood.

Personal pronouns are important, Yessy the witch tells us in the prologue. Instead of the restrictive and exclusively binary ‘he/she’, many trans and gender progressive people prefer ‘they/them’. Some in the audience might, at this point, have steeled themselves to sit through a worthy but dull, issue-led panto, its message dressed up as entertainment.

But what unfolded, instead, was show of such depth and imagination that there was not a child or adult in the bijou Marlborough Theatre who was not enthralled as they were reassured that exploring one’s identity and gender was OK, and should simply be recognised as part of the human project.

Jack is glum because of trouble at school. Choosing to wear both kinds of pants – those identified as exclusively for ‘boys’ or ‘girls’ – Jack is being laughed at in PE. Jack is also poor and must sell something for food. Along comes King Rat who swindles Jack of a chest of drawers containing ‘treasure’, which is revealed as Jack’s other ‘drawers’ – comforting patchwork pants made by his two dads. These pants will become the inspiration for a bright idea that will rescue Jack and his dads from their predicament.

King Rat is played as a two-handed creation by Peter and Nicki Hobday, whose gurning, writhing performance(s) are barnstorming, laugh-out-loud funny and award-worthy. When a spell splits King Rat into two competing personas sharing the stage, the bizarre double-act that ensues boasts riches of linguistic play and physical comedy that raises this panto above many others on offer in larger, more prestigious venues this holiday season.