A binge-worthy panto
Alice in Streamingland is a new musical pantomime for grown-ups. It combines a nostalgic look back at our mass addiction to the streamed TV programmes which kept us entertained during early lockdown with the more traditional fare of Alice in Wonderland. This isn’t another streamed theatrical event though, it is playing live to real audiences in the cabaret club setting of the Phoenix Arts Club just off the Charing Cross Road.
This was my first visit to the theatre since February and I already had a grin on my face as I approached the venue. Tier 2 rules mean the club is running at 40 per cent capacity so there is plenty of space between tables. Visitors are invited to download the Phoenix Arts Club’s own app to order drinks and food. This worked remarkably smoothly here – I have ended up feeling technologically ancient trying to get similar apps to work in other venues – and my glass of wine appeared almost instantaneously. I can’t be the only person hoping that the days of spending whole intervals in a queue at the bar might be over. Covid restrictions were cleverly woven into the play, too, with the cast swapping in and out of their masks as they moved between the stage and seating area. And social distancing meant no poor audience member was coaxed onto the stage for the usual ritual humiliation.
I grew up in the era of principal boys, Arthur Askey playing the dame, someone like Stewpot playing Buttons and the cast of Please, Sir making up the numbers. The last pantomime I’d seen was Cinderella in Wimbledon in the early 1990s starring Barbara Windsor and Bonnie Langford. Being so long out of practice, I was expecting to do a lot of booing and shouting “Behind you”. There wasn’t a lot of either but there was a lot of camp fun.
Alice in Streamingland’s clever script was written by Colin Savage, who also doubles as the Dame, in this case, the Evil Queen of Hearts (as played by one of Ru Paul’s drag queens). In fact, every traditional Wonderland character is “played” by a star of streamed TV except for Alice who is a TokTik (sic) star. Do not expect to get every joke and reference in this play unless you have devoted the whole of lockdown to watching the likes of Schitt’s Creek, The Crown, Ru Paul’s Drag Race and Tiger King. I have only seen the last of these in full and for me, the real Joe Exotic is beyond parody – dressing him up as the White Rabbit makes him no more ridiculous than he is in real life. The sequences parodying The Crown are more inclusive as it doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen the series, no one is left wondering who Charles and Diana are. Knowing who Carole Baskin is requires more specialist knowledge after all. None of this matters, though, as the jokes and big musical numbers come fast and there’s some great singing from the versatile cast.
After so many months of singing in public being essentially banned, it was great to hear some good West End style singing being belted out. Among the singers, notable mentions go to Sofie Kaern, a Dane making her London stage debut as Alice, and Matt Bateman moving effortlessly from playing the White Rabbit to the Mad Hatter. He performs the night’s stand-out number The Not a Disney Song Song to great comic effect.
It was strangely thrilling to go up to town and see a live performance after all this time. There is a definite feeling of anticipation in the air as people start to reemerge from their covid cocoons and venture back into the West End. I thoroughly enjoyed my first panto in many years and will definitely be checking out the listings for future events at the Phoenix Arts Club.
Dates: Alice in Streamingland runs until 3 January 2021. A VIP cabaret table for two will cost you £53
1 Phoenix St,
London WC2H 8BU
For more Christmas entertainment, how about Simon Drake’s House of Magic – there’s still one date left on 18th December
Or for something more cerebral, check our review of The Dumb Waiter at Hampstead Theatre, celebrating its 60th anniversary!