A PRIMA DONNY JOINS THE FEARLESS FOUR
Last year as a family we came to see the doughty quartet doing this variety show, an adult-joking non-panto to fill the fearful gap. It was the day after the royal children had been there. Paul Zerdin, Gary Wilmot, Julian Clary and NIgel Havers, alongside Jac Yarrow and – that year- Elaine Paige and Beverley Knight. Foolery, top ventriloquism from Zerdin, the Underground-stations song from Wilmot, big musical numbers filling in time, routine persecution of Havers as “underpaid minion”, and innumerable trouser-related jokes from Clary.
The next day, they closed for lockdown 2, haemhorraging money and hope. So it became a golden memory of a gallant attempt, light-theatre’s answer to the Charge of the Light Brigade.
So, when my Life of Pi matinee was taken off for Covid, I found the cheapest seat in the house – £25, a marooned single in the stalls, not bad, always worth looking for singles – and joined a riotously determined queue down Argyll Street to get in to the 2.30 and report.
Well, some of the jokes are recycled, as well they should be: the Covid ones to a masked audience still relevant (“looks like the invasion of the J-cloths”) though I didn’t hear my favourite one from last year, when Zerdin’s puppet leered to a woman in the front row ‘get your nose out for the lads!”. One excellent new one (sorry, trouser-gay related again, that’s Clary for you) was the frou-frou MC saying he called Andrew Lloyd Webber and was told he was busy, “I’ve got Chris Whitty on my back…So I said Andrew, if that’s what it takes..”.
The big turns are similar, though the Tiller Girls were a surprise. And, of course the outsider headliner was Donny Osmond. I hadn’t noticed that on the poster, so at last the shrieks of middle-aged ladies in that street queue made sense. From inside an enormous mad blue kaftan and cloak he howls out a specially written and truly atrocious opening number about how Pantoland “makes you who you are” or something, and later does a rather fine mashup of Crazy Horses and a well-taken-up singalong of Love Me For A Reason.
Oh, and a duet with Clary, whose shtick, as with Zerdin’s puppet duet last year with Knight, is sending up the song line by line. I could have done with a touch less Donny, but he was game, and it was fun, and all the acts – especially Zerdin – are top class. And the costumes, especially Clary’s, are quite wonderfully silly. Oh, and of course there’s the pleasure of Nigel Havers, who gets wild cheering whenever he comes on ever since his Coronation Street cad-with-a-finally-golden-heart affair with Audrey Roberts the septuagenarian hairdresser. All respect to him at 71, leaping round the stage in a Buttons uniform or giant pudding; in this break he’s actually halfway through a national tour of Private Lives (scroll down for theatrecat verdict).
And Nigel it is who gets to make the joke about a cheese and wine party with Boris. I hope by tonight they’re doing the new-baby jokes, and the fancy-wallpaper jokes. The government owes us that.
Inappropriate to rate it. But it’s a laugh, and it’s back, and the Palladium should always be packed in the Christmas season, for that is its nature. Hope it stays that way.