sat 13/07/2024

Panto!, ITV1 | reviews, news & interviews

Panto!, ITV1

Panto!, ITV1

Comedian's co-written comic drama follows festive conventions flawlessly

John Bishop (right) and Sheridan Smith star in Panto!

Pantomime is one of the great festive traditions and the version of Dick Whittington envisaged by John Bishop in this one-off comedy drama checked off every single one of the clichés. Taking a writer’s credit alongside Jonathan Harvey of Gimme Gimme Gimme fame, the Liverpool comic drew on his experiences on regional stages near the beginning of his showbiz career in pulling together the script.

Bishop starred as Lewis Loud, a local radio DJ making his pantomime debut at the Grand Theatre Lancaster as part of a group of characters straight out of central casting. There was soap star Tamsin Taylor (Sheridan Smith), famous for playing "Mad Mindy the Axe Murderer", as principal boy Dick; a well-spoken Shakespearean actor reduced to the role of pantomime dame; a bad-tempered dwarf whose role as Tickles the Cat seemed like a step backwards after the previous year’s Snow White; and an accident-prone Chesney Hawkes, who was (quite literally, after falling down a manhole five minutes in) wheeled onto the stage to perform his big hit “The One and Only” at regular intervals during the show. 

Mark Benton and Sam Spiro in Panto!The show itself, and the growing tensions between the cast in the hours leading up to its opening night, were entertaining enough but what gave Panto! depth was the attempts by Lewis to rekindle a relationship with his estranged son, Paul (Daniel Bishop). Ex-wife Gina (Kaye Wragg) and her new partner had won an exotic winter holiday as part of a dubious-sounding jingle-writing competition, leaving Lewis to juggle his son, theatrical duties and his blossoming relationship with co-star Tamsin. The situation theoretically became further complicated when the DJ was offered the chance to join his new love on hotly hyped reality show Celebrity Sleigh Ride, although whether the show itself would go on was never really in any doubt. Just as in the medium which gave Panto! it its name, certain conventions must be followed in a family primetime drama - and yet, the end result seems no worse off for it.

The all-star cast contributed some fantastic performances, with cracking one-liners and some surprisingly hilarious physical comedy - albeit mostly with the hapless Hawkes, sent up throughout as its victim with good humour (as it’s tiresome to be cynical at Christmas, the presence of a new song playing out over the show’s closing credits shall be written off as purely coincidental). Samantha Spiro as egomaniac producer Di (pictured above right, with Mark Benton as Francis, the show’s director) was hugely entertaining while panto dame Michael Cochrane stole the show, delivering most of the best lines and acting as conscience and cautionary tale for Lewis in a gorgeously mellifluous voice. Ami Metcalf, deliberately mis-cast as the show’s leading lady, played a similarly sweet-natured girl making the best of an awkward situation as she did the other night in Call the Midwife’s Christmas special, and her atonal perfomance of “Like a Virgin” while clothed in shiny plastic was perfectly pitched to be cringeworthy.

Bishop himself hardly seems to have to act at all - Lewis’ radio schtick consists mainly of bad jokes and comedic sound effects, while if the credits are to be believed the actor who portrays the DJ’s son bears a name suspiciously close to Bishop’s own - but by the end of the show, I was rooting for him regardless. Watching him demonstrate how he would perform improvisational stand-up to a cynical director during dress rehearsal was far funnier than the comedy itself.


What a brilliant play. I have been in amateur pantos and this was so real. Well done John Bishop. You didnt try to be the star and allowed others to shine as well.

I too have done Panto. This year one of the leading ladies failed to show on first night. Last year The Actor playing The Cat got Pissed at every Performance. If only I had a minute piece of Michael Cochrane s talent I would die happy.

What a good play. I loved the storyline and the acting was great. It was funny, serious and sentimental. Great combination!

I too have done amateur pantos at this very theatre where this was filmed. I enjoyed the programme, but it brought back many memories from an early age of appearing at this theatre and all the people that I knew. At one stage I saw one of the pictures on the wall in the downstairs dressing rooms of a guy playing a pantomime dame who died a few years ago now and then I saw his wife playing an usher in the theatre itself which made me start to cry... This theatre in Lancaster is run by amateurs with a love for theatre. It's a gem that we cherish as much as the people involved!

I thought it was rather slow and dull with a few good parts. The dwarf was awful and I think this will be a blotch on many talented actors CVs.

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