London’s underground theatre just keeps getting cooler — this time it’s a panto. Before you roll your eyes, let’s assure you this is no ordinary panto. For starters, it’s 18 years and over. Seconds, it’s set amongst the back streets of Covent Garden. And lastly, only you and one other are solely responsible for saving Christmas. Still not convinced?
While not to give too much away, let’s take you through a mock scenario. Upon entering a small door without a sign, you are whisked up to the Elves’ HQ where chairs are a wee bit small and cheeky signs on the wall read “Safer Work, Better Lives — Elf Unite”. It’s there you are briefed on the dire situation at hand – Cinderella and The Prince are missing, and without them, Santa insists there can be no Christmas.
You, and now your partner in crime, are directed to the streets where another elf greets you reiterating the importance of the mission — without a Christmas, how can the elves get work? The overly flamboyant Dandini hints inside the men’s clothing store Hackett that perhaps Cinderella's been a bit promiscuous. Once inside the back entrance of Pollock's Toy Shop, you learn that perhaps it's The Prince who's been naughty...
Further shenanigans play out in your search for the fairy-tale couple, but watch where the eccentric cast take you — a clandestine room in the vaults of a perfumery, or perhaps the bustling rooftop bar at Punch and Judy’s — can feel rather intimidating and even a bit embarrassing. Never mind – it’s all part of the fun (you insist as a host of onlookers repeatedly snap photos of you sharing secrets with the heteromorphic horse-monkey Brandy Butter, and no doubt are instantly tweeting to the masses).
The finale, while initially teetering on the predictable, wondrously throws a surprise crowd pleaser into the works –reminding us that this panto is not for the little ones. In many ways, it’s a welcoming departure from Pantoland, something site-specific theatre company Look Left, Look Right are known for (check out their Fringe Fest winners The Caravan and You Once Said Yes). In other ways, its collaboration with Covent Garden feels like an upgraded Christmas advert. Maybe that’s okay: it’s about getting into the festive spirit.
One thing’s for sure – this show can’t be faulted for it’s creativity – each section is timed just so, and faultlessly interlinks with the next (watch out what you say – it might come back to bite you in the end!). Two pathways means it might require a second viewing — you don't want to miss the historic, surreptitious landmarks.
Once Upon a Christmas runs until 15 December, with a capacity of 40 a night. Start times begin at 4.30pm and run until 7.30pm with tickets costing £35. Show is 70 minutes and predominantly outside so make sure you bundle up. Bookings can be made via London Transport Museum. Londonist saw this on a complimentary ticket.