Comedy: Wham bam Pam Ann

Written By: Cary Gee
Published: May 10, 2017 Last modified: May 10, 2017

Pam Ann: Touch Trolley, Run to Galley
Leicester Square Theatre, London

Twenty years after she first took to the skies, Pam Ann’s latest touchdown in London is timed perfectly. After a montage of career highlights is played to a deafening Madonna soundtrack (further distorted by the odd acoustics inherent in this theatre) she appears in all her high-haired glory.  “I need four of you to leave your seats,” she deadpans. “We’re overbooked.”
The “volunteers” are then verbally roughed up before being paraded on stage as the
Spice Girls, who by happy coincidence are also 20 years old.

It’s highly unusual to engage the audience so early in the evening, but then Pam Ann (Caroline Reid) is not your usual ­comedienne. She is a foul-mouthed force field. A physical phenomenon constructed from ­primary-coloured polyester. And she can’t ­believe her luck to have pulled on stage a real-life corrections officer – straight from Prisoner Cell Block H. With dizzying dexterity, she quickly ­reduces five grown men to a state of complete discombobulation. The fact she is working without a script makes her on-stage evisceration all the more impressive.

Then she begins the show. And you ask yourself the same question you asked last time. The “Alf Garnett” question. Is laughing at a racist character the same thing as laughing at racism? There is plenty of politically incorrect humour on show here (all of it, in fact), and while it’s easier to laugh at an ­Emirates air hostess called Iris – a joke at the expense of extremists – a stronger stomach is needed to digest some of the characterisation on show.

Appreciating the inherent racism and absurd class-conscious snobbery of the airline industry is a pre-requisite to getting the joke – and something that is perhaps lost on the legions of airline staff who regularly flock to Pam Ann’s shows. Even the show’s title refers to an innate desire on the part of cabin crew to do as little work as is absolutely necessary. Reid largely gets away with it through the sheer amount of work she puts in, coupled to her force of will. Few comedians work harder for their money.

On both sides of the interval, we are treated to some in-flight entertainment. An eye-wateringly funny movie pastiche of the Great British W..k Off! No one has ever sunk the soggy-bottomed end-of-the-pier pretension of Bake Off with such Exocet precision before.

As this is an anniversary show, we are treated to her full galley of stereotypes – personified by the dolls Pam Ann produces on stage. There is horse-headed Susan from British Airways, Hans Zee Gay from Lufthansa, the slutty one from Virgin, and Lily from Singapore Airlines, who is more concerned with her designer handbags than passenger safety. Lily is a scream but how hard should you laugh at a woman wearing “slit-eyed” glasses?” After rummaging fruitlessly at her table, Pam comes up empty handed. “I can never find the Malaysian Airlines one,” she says drolly.

Pam Ann pulls no punches, takes no prisoners and bars no holds. She was ever thus. A brave, often brutal belly-laugh of a show, piloted by a woman who perfectly judges how much turbulence her passengers can take, then, just for fun, cranks up the cockpit thrust levers.

About Cary Gee

Cary Gee is a freelance journalist and Tribune columnist