SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS
Birmingham Hippodrome, Saturday 21st December, 2013
You can depend on the Birmingham Hippodrome to provide a Christmas show that is opulent, extravagant, spectacular, dripping with glitter and with big-name stars. This year is no exception but what sets this production above some of the recent offerings is its sheer entertainment value. This is an extremely funny show indeed.
All eight of the title characters, however, are hardly in it. Danielle Hope’s Snow White gets a couple of opportunities to belt out ballads (which she does very well) but doesn’t get to interact with the seven little men in whose cottage she takes refuge. As for those seven little men, here we don’t get actors who are dwarfs; we get actors in novelty costumes scuttling around, lip-synching to a pre-recorded track, it seems to me. It’s a fun moment when they first appear but the joke wears thin – then again, they have so little to do on stage, it hardly matters how they are presented*.
This production is not so much a pantomime as a variety show with a pantomime twist and – it turns out – there is nothing wrong with this approach. Where do we get to see old-school variety anymore?
Gok Wan gets things off to a flying start as the Man in the Mirror, swinging above the stage in a frame like a glittered toilet seat. This is Wan’s first outing of this type and proves himself game for a laugh even if his production number is a bit of a stretch too far. Eastenders’s John Partridge is the dashing Prince, a Royal song-and-dance man, reminding us of his roots in dance and musical theatre, and works as a warm-up act at the start of both halves. He also struts and poses in proper panto style – he is an all-round entertainer and easy on the eye too.
Another consummate performer, Gary Wilmot, is the Dame. He is underused, I feel. Yes, he sings a comic song about baltis in Birmingham and another of mawkish sentiment about being a mother, but on the whole he is very much relegated to a supporting role for the comedic antics of the others. The Dame has two sons, you see, and we see a lot of them. There is Muddles – ventriloquist Paul Zerdin, who gets a lot of stage time to give us his act, including pulling a couple from the audience and using them as life-size dummies – and there is Oddjob, played by the energetic Matt Slack, who openly acknowledges his Brian-Conleyesque approach. They are both very entertaining and bring a lot of energy and laughter – at the expense of the drama of the fairytale.
It falls to the fabulous Stephanie Beacham to keep the story going as the Wicked Queen “Sadista”. Miss Beacham makes an elegant villain with claws and spikes and a voice that drips evil. It is she above all who anchors the show in pantomime rather than let it fly off into full-blown music hall.
Producer/director Michael Harrison goes for glamour and glitz rather than drama and danger. It’s a show about surface rather than what’s underneath and, in this instance, it’s none the poorer for it. There is one sequence, a silly song about alternative jobs the comic characters could do instead of working for the Queen that gets the biggest reaction of the night. It involves a frying pan, a feather duster, a cricket bat and a policeman’s truncheon and a breathtaking display of comic timing, demonstrating the delight that can be derived from watching skilled performers live on stage.
This Snow White may have drifted from a purist’s view of pantomime but it’s a hell of an enjoyable night out.
*Cheeky plug: The dwarfs reminded me of a crime novel what I wrote