Peter Duncan – acclaimed Panto Dame, writer and director – has launched three Panto Online digital films for families, schools and community groups, and in true Blue Peter spirit, he’s taken his passion and expertise for panto and “made them earlier”.
In Pantoland, Peter’s brand-new cinematic digital production, Dame Dolly Doughnut will take audiences on a pantomime adventure telling tales of Aladdin and Peter Pan, in the company of hilarious puppets, scary monsters and with songs to sing along to. As part of the filming this summer, on the hottest London day ever, Peter attempted a challenge in the spirit of his much-loved 1980s Duncan Dares shows, when he took on a 30-feet high zipwire stunt dressed in full panto garb as Widow Twankey on a flying carpet above his garden.
Released alongside Pantoland will be Panto Online’s critically-acclaimed and much-loved 2020 and 2021 productions: Cinderella (featuring Peter as Billie Eyelash), the panto in which love conquers all, is full of beautiful original songs, great spectacle, slapstick and slosh and an unexpected outcome, and Jack and the Beanstalk a planet-saving pantomime packed with laughter, great invention and a really big Giant.
Panto Online started at the beginning of the Covid pandemic when Peter set up his own online pantomime for audiences across the world to watch on screens, big and small – a magical combination of theatre and film streamed into homes and schools as well as on UK national cinema release.
They are available to stream online now from pantoonline.co.uk
You launched Panto Online in recent years, what can you tell us about it?
In response to the lockdown we shot a pantomime film Jack and the Beanstalk with modest aspirations in me and my neighbour’s back gardens. I had no idea it would end up as a UK cinema release and be watched by families, schools, Scouts and Guides, community groups and care homes in such great numbers.
It was a highly creative exercise transferring my understanding of the panto genre to a cinematic or streaming experience and I only knew how well it worked when I finally watched it in a packed cinema. I found myself shouting at myself on screen along with the rest of the audience. It also allowed a much more subtle telling of the narrative along with great filmic slapstick scenes. It featured original music so very much a musical theatre film.
You first set up online pantos at the start of the pandemic, what made you want to continue when theatres had reopened?
We were in the second wave of the pandemic and not all theatres had reopened and they had shorter runs. Also schools were very interested in our education resources and the experience they had in the first year. The second production was a much bigger film shot on location and with higher production values and reached a wider audience of families worldwide.
Pantoland is the newest of the trio, what can you tell us about that one?
I felt it was worth continuing into a third season with our latest film Pantoland which takes it all in a slightly different direction but still in essence is a panto with multiple characters, telling tales of Aladdin, Peter Pan and Red Riding Hood. It also has Muppets and Puppets as well as some classic panto routines
You’ve used your own garden as a backdrop, and we hear you’ve not been afraid to do your own stunts, what’s the most outrageous thing you’ve done for these pantos?
It has to be this year when dressed as Dame Dolly Doughnut who had borrowed Aladdin’s flying carpet, I leap from a tree on the hottest day of the year. It was 40C. Of course I was on a zip wire which ‘mysteriously’ disappears in the finished film!
Why do you think Panto Online makes a great alternative for families who can’t get to the theatre this year?
I think it’s a great way of getting your panto joy in a different form and you can watch it as many times as you like. The previous films also received great reviews from both theatre and film critics so hopefully you won’t be disappointed. Of course as a man of the theatre, I hope everyone can make it to a live show but if you can’t because of the expense or illness, this is a cost-effective alternative.
What would you say to anyone thinking about booking Panto Online?
Go to pantoonline.co.uk and you can buy all three pantos for £15 including Pantoland. If you are a school, Scout group (remember, I was Chief Scout) or community group there are great offers and extras. If you are a business you can get a corporate package for all your staff or employees with a special personalised message from Dame Dolly Doughnut. It might be a bit personal!