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Clive Rowe, Pantomime Dame, 2021
Photo by Gobinder JhittaClive Rowe

‘The only upside was I could drink on Christmas Day’

Panto season 2020 was a disaster. Three London pantomime legends reminisce and look forward to a happier 2021

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski

‘We just want to give people two hours of fun’

London’s greatest dame Clive Rowe stars in and co-directs the 2021 Hackney Empire show ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, which was cancelled in 2020.

‘We took the decision to cancel “Jack and the Beanstalk” early last year, because we couldn’t afford to start putting on the pantomime and then for it not to happen. The good thing is we’ve had a lot more time to work on the script. It’s my first time directing a show and I love every heartbeat of it. We’ll be steering clear of Covid references and politics: we feel people have lived it, and we don’t think there’s anything remotely funny about Covid; a lot of people have died. I’m sure there are other pantomimes doing Covid this and Boris that, and that’s their choice. We just want to give people two hours of fun, let the kids run around and scream and shout,just to get away from it all, really.’
Hackney Empire. Until Jan 2 2022. From £10.

‘We did six shows last year, and then they shut us down’

Ventriloquist comic Paul Zerdin is a regular in London’s biggest panto, at the Palladium. This year, its pulled 2020 show ‘Pantoland’ is back.

‘Last year our producer-director Michael Harrison was a beacon of hope. He was insistent that he would get this thing off the ground. We had distanced rehearsals, we had Covid monitors, we were hyper careful. Our second dress rehearsal was a royal gala for Kate and William and NHS frontliners. It was amazing. When it opened on the Saturday, I’d never seen anything like it, we had a three- or four-minute standing ovation. We did six shows, and then they shut us down. You can imagine how upset we were. The only upside was that I could drink as much as I wanted on Christmas Day. This year, it’s the same show but taken to a new level, with Julian Clary and Donny Osmond. It’s non-stop laughs.’
London Palladium. Dec 4-Jan 9 2022. From £25.

‘There’s a whole ABBA section in this year’s show’

Dave Cross is events manager at LGBTQ+ venue the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Its curtailed 2020 adults-only panto, ‘Pricked’, returns for 2021.

‘Last year we had to ask people not to shout out or cheer or sing. So we bought a load of buzzers and myself and one of the writers recorded messages saying “He’s behind you” and “Oh, no it isn’t”, then gave them to the audience. It was very funny for the first couple of performances but it got on everyone’s nerves after a while. We’d only done seven shows when Boris told us to shut down, so we decided to bring back ‘Pricked’ with a 2021 remix. There’s a whole ABBA section. We have the stage debut of the Abbatars, the same stage values as the actual production, and absolutely no cardboard boxes at all. Fingers crossed that we’ll make it through to January…’
Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Nov 26-Jan 6 2022. £20.

Complete guide to London pantomimes 2021.

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