Jefferson Turner (left) and Daniel Clarkson (right), aka TV comedy duo Dan and Jeff, have been delighting theatregoers with their anarchic, award-winning brand of “potted” performance since 2006. On the eve of bringing their latest show, Potted Panto, to the West End, the pair tells us about squeezing seven classic stories into 80 minutes and bringing pantomime back to the West End…
What attracted you to pantomime as the next topic for your famous “potted” treatment?
Dan: Both of us had done pantos for years and it was a great opportunity not only to do the stories themselves, but to look at all the traditions and, in a tongue-in-cheek way, pull them apart.
Jeff: We’re saying to the audience, “You enjoy panto, we enjoy panto, but really, why do we?”
D: If you’re with someone who has never heard the “It’s behind you” gag, how would you explain that? We’ll be on stage, trying to explain it and the audience will be going, “Yeah, why on earth do we do that?”
J: We’re doing pantos, but with nods and winks to the audience – even more than they do in panto.
D: We’re panto-ing up a pantomime.
J: But actually, because of all that, the one thing we’ve had to make sure we do is still tell the stories. Or else we’re not doing what it says on the tin. But we’re playing around and trying to do each one differently to keep it interesting.
You include Aladdin, Jack and the Beanstalk, Dick Whittington, Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and A Christmas Carol – how did you go about choosing which stories to tell?
J: That was huge: there are seven in it now and we must have had 15 to start with. We argued the case for each – whether they were actually pantos or not.
D: And we found the ones that we liked and remembered. It’s the same thing with anything we do: if we know them, like them and remember them, it’s a lot easier to write.
You’ve both done lots of panto in the past - what have been your most memorable experiences?
J: My most memorable one would have been when Dan and I did the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella in 2006. It was the only time I’ve legitimately been able to wear size 12 stiletto heels. That was an awful lot of fun because you just get to bully every character and because of that you end up bullying the actors as well.
D: I’ve done a lot of panto parts: everything from the Chinese Policeman through to Alderman Fitzwarren from Dick Whittington. I was Fleshcreep in Jack and the Beanstalk, which was fun. I love playing the bad guy because you get so much out of it. Every actor will tell you that every Christmas you just get to mess around – it sounds terrible – but for two months you get to mess around and have fun, and only in this country. Nowhere else does it.
It’s been a fair few years since there was a panto in the West End proper – how does it feel to be bringing the genre back to Theatreland?
J: We are incredibly passionate about the fact that there should be panto in the West End. Whatever you think about panto, it’s one of the biggest theatre traditions we’ve got.
D: Panto’s the only example of mainstream theatre where variety still has a place and I’m going to hate myself for saying it but I like Britain’s Got Talent because it’s bringing variety back. Variety theatre was brilliant and it’s a shame that it’s gone from London. It’s time to bring it back.
J: Hopefully we’ll prove that panto can work in the West End.
Potted Panto is playing at the Vaudeville Theatre, London from 10 December to 9 January. For tickets, visit their website.
Images courtesy of Gabrielle Motola.