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Panda Pride!
Published on Monday, 13 May 2013

Promotional Image

2 stars

Hanover Community Centre (venue website)
10-12 May, 8:00pm-9:00pm
Reviewed by Mathilda Gregory

 Parental Guidance. Under-17's must be accompanied by an adult.

This show starts on a silly, hilarious high. Two actors in giant, plush, panda costumes stumble into the Hanover Community Centre, bopping shyly to Michael Jackson’s Black or White. People in animal costumes mucking about are just very funny, and always fun to watch. It’s a real pity this show never hit the heights of its opening moments again.

I really wanted to like this show – it’s a sweet production, and, y’know, pandas are awesome. There are some solid, comic ideas here too. There’s the notion that these pandas (apparently on Palace Pier, to attract tourists) think they are watching humans brought to entertain them; and there’s the idea that the pandas know that their valued status depends on staying rare, hence their reluctance to breed. There was also some fascinating stuff in there about China leasing pandas to zoos and charging a fortune. (China owns all the pandas in the world, and has dibs on any cubs born to them.)

But sadly, these ideas are tossed away, or not consistently developed into any kind of story. The script mainly depends on panda puns. These just don’t create the PANDA-monium (geddit?) the show desires. The success or failure of groan-worthy jokes depends on delivery, and it takes bags of commitment to bad comedy to make bad comedy work. Here the delivery was hampered by the fact the script was being read from large, printed script books; lots of jokes (good and bad) just got lost in the way timing is hampered when lines are being read from a page.

The pandas also remained seated for almost the entire show. As pandas are notoriously slow-moving this could have been considered in-character, but to watch such fun costumes used for nothing physical at all was as disappointing as going to the zoo and finding the pandas won’t come out of their little panda house. It feels wrong to criticise this show too much, because it feels wrong to be unkind about a couple of super cute pandas – but at times watching people in panda costumes, whose faces were completely obscured, reading aloud from printed scripts felt almost like an existential joke.

The few times the pandas moved was to stand up and show images on the screen behind them, which were mostly silly pictures of pandas. Some of these were quite funny, but unfortunately when the pandas stood up their panda heads obscured the screen almost completely – which was frustrating, because a problem like that is so simple to spot and rectify.

All in all, it just felt like a missed opportunity. Watching two performers in panda costumes really is fun, and it’s easy to imagine them flyering on New Road and causing a storm of excitement. Because, PANDAS! But there’s a lot of work to do with this show before that. Sadly, Panda Pride was a bit of a Panda Shame.

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