Selling us short?

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Thursday 15th December, 2011

Controversy rages about this year’s pantomime at Wolverhampton’s lovely Grand Theatre. Instead of real-live dwarves, Snow White’s seven housemates are played by children wearing character heads. The children gesticulate and fling their arms around to accompany pre-recorded dialogue that makes them sound like the men who advertise tea bags. In my view, this is a theatrical device that doesn’t work. I would have preferred the interactions of live actors with their own heads and it is easy to understand why real-life dwarf actors have a grievance. It’s all about cost-cutting, apparently, and that’s a shame. Pantomime is the year’s big money spinner for most provincial theatres. You might think there’d be enough in the coffers to employ some professionals.

On the other hand, when we go to see Goldilocks & The Three Bears we don’t expect actual bona fide grizzly bears to put in an appearance.

Leaving all that aside, we are left with a very enjoyable production. Where it works best is when it doesn’t deviate from tradition. Comedy duo The Grumbleweeds (didn’t there used to be more of them?) provide the bulk of the comedy, performing age-old routines and older jokes with the skill of the seasoned professionals they undoubtedly are. I think it’s time to retire the Ali G impression though – the kids don’t know who he is and if they did, I’d be alarmed. There are plenty of jokes and off-colour remarks to keep the adults entertained without resurrecting a character that hasn’t been in the public eye for yonks.

The action is peppered with pop songs but none you’ve ever heard of. These are generic, own brand pop songs, tailored for the show, instantly forgettable and offering no chance for the audience to sing along. Where are the chart hits characters would sing, not entirely appropriately? Another sign of cost-cutting, I suppose.

Sam Kane plays a beefy Prince and also directs. He belts out a couple of numbers and is clearly enjoying his work very much. “I’m getting paid for this!” he gasps during a moment of nonsense. It’s a scripted line, I bet, but also reflects how lucky he must feel to have such employment.

The show belongs to Linda Lusardi, who is a revelation as evil Queen Lucretia. She stalks melodramatically around the stage in fabulous outfits, maintaining a characterisation that is a joy to behold. I was rooting for the wicked queen rather than the somewhat insipid Snow White. I’ve seen Linda Lusardi in other pantomimes where she hasn’t been given so much to do. This year she is really firing on all cylinders and, thankfully, hardly leaves the stage. To quote Ali G (remember him?) she is ‘well wicked’.


About williamstafford

Novelist (Brough & Miller, sci fi, historical fantasy) Theatre critic and Actor - I can often be found walking the streets of Stratford upon Avon in the guise of the Bard! View all posts by williamstafford

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