Dustin & Soky's Big Little Christmas Panto


Let's draw up a list of things which preoccupy children these days. The World Wrestling Federation; boy bands; pop star wannabe TV shows; fart jokes; magic tricks, and Harry Potter. Add two anarchic RT╔ puppets and what have you got?

Somewhat predictably, you have the formulaic Dustin & Soky's Big Little Christmas Panto at the Olympia.

This isn't really a traditional panto at all, even though the audience is encouraged to shout out the usual responses. More like a variety show framed by a bit of chat from the puppets and pals, it's a ragbag of influences and arbitrary interjections; some of them echoing ancient bits of the quickfire vaudeville "who's on first" routine of Abbott and Costello, here performed by the Wright brothers, Who and What (Myles Breen and Gary Finnegan, both excel- lent), and the slow-motion wrestling of Nervo and Knox.

But, then again, nobody ever said the fun in Christmas shows has to be cutting-edge. We old cynics have to try and evaluate stuff like this through the eyes of the audience for which it was intended. So what did my companions, Jack (eight) and Sally (five) think of it?

Jack's favourite part was the comic wrestling and he thought the farts were funny. Sally liked Katie (Lorna Dempsey), the pretty 15-year-old with the lovely voice, but wasn't so keen on the farts. Both enjoyed the magic from illusionist Michael McCoy and the Stench and Aunt Monica characters. They thought the whole thing was a tremendous success.

From an adult perspective, it's hard to keep cynicism at bay. (My favourite bit was where baddie Max Von Blowoff and his sidekick Stench - Breen and Finnegan again - toppled the boy band mid-song by bashing them on their heads with frying pans and dropping large weights on them; they reprised later with the aid of slings and crutches.)

Written by Ciarβn Morrison and Mick O'Hara, this poorly thought-out and opportunistic show has no real story or, indeed, identity - some nonsense about Dustin and Soky's panto being sabotaged by the Dastardly and Muttley-style villains.

Director Mikel Murfi also stars as Aunt Monica, though he restricts the physical clowning to some perfectly executed falls and a stunning abseil from the theatre's ceiling. The puppets' "minder", Damien McCaul, skilfully makes a virtue of his stage awkwardness, but his flirty scenes with Katie seem a bit peculiar (to say the least).

The abrasive Dustin and endearing Soky are strangely subdued. You'd miss the anarchic chaos which characterises the Den studio - there isn't enough insulting crosstalk (and more acerbic comments from Dustin might have pleased the adults) and the puppets often seem a bit dislocated from what is happening onstage.

The dancing is suitably energetic, the music predictable pop to a pre-recorded soundtrack plus some live numbers from Donegal band The Revs, the baddies' costumes were great, but the timing and production were raggy in spots.