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Marlowe Theatre Canterbury's Nurse Nellie Saves Panto brings a very 2020 version of panto

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We'd all had our fill of online meetings, chats and calls in 2020, but could one more online show, squeezed in before midnight on January 3, 2021, be the finale we all needed to our festive season?

After having to abandon original plans for panto this year, managers at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury, with Evolution Productions, decided that yes, we could manage one more - a streaming of their socially-distanced, safe pop-up panto for free so that those missing live theatre - and live panto gags - could see it even though the theatre was shut, and give a donation if they were able.

The Nurse Nellie Saves Panto cast. Picture: The Marlowe Theatre
The Nurse Nellie Saves Panto cast. Picture: The Marlowe Theatre

It may not have been quite the raucous affair regulars were used to, where audience participation is key, but the ingenuity of writer and director Paul Hendy, along with the performances of five professionals, meant it could still have us chuckling at our laptops.

There was just five in the cast - Chanice Alexander-Burnett, Cara Dudgeon, Lloyd Hollett, Ian Kirkby and Ben Roddy - but this wasn't obvious, almost until Ian Kirkby (Baron Von Badapple) asked "Where are the dancing girls? They are on furlough?"

The perfect 2020 take on the usual audience response to Lloyd Hollett's Silly Billy "Hiya, gang" - complete silence - seemed to inexplicably get funnier each time, while the usual humour was still there in spades (my personal favourite was a Tolkien gag).

Plenty of regular set pieces were also still there, including the cart sequence; a slightly subtle Sheppey gag and others with Covid adaptations, including the ghost gag, with its longer bench.

Ben Roddy in Nurse Nellie Saves Panto
Ben Roddy in Nurse Nellie Saves Panto

There's a reason the Marlowe panto pulls in its punters by the thousands every year - the writing, direction, music, props and performances - and all those elements were still there - hopefully thousands will still have streamed the show this year.

But what was interesting was that the one thing that was missing was actually us - the audience.

What was missing was the laughs, the applause, the cheers and the boos. Let's hope we can laugh louder; applaud perfect performances; boo baddies and cheer goodies along with the cast next year.

To donate to the Marlowe Theatre Trust and book for the 2021 panto, Jack and the Beanstalk, which will run from Friday, November 26 to Sunday, January 9, click here.

For more entertainments news across Kent click here.

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