SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS
Regent Theatre, Stoke on Trent, Sunday 22nd December, 2013
There are three reasons I travel to Stoke every year for the pantomime at the Regent. The first is Jonathan Wilkes, the local lad made good (never mind Robbie Whatsisname). He headlines (this year as ‘Muddles’) and from the reception he gets on his first entrance, it is clear they adore him here. It’s easy to see why, considering his cheeky persona, boyish good looks and pop-star singing voice. He also co-directs and over the years has developed into something of a leading light in pantomime. He may be playing to his home audience but, speaking as an ‘outsider’, I think he’d be a crowd-pleaser in any theatre.
Reason number two is Wilkes’s co-director and partner-in-panto, the ebullient Christian Patterson. More often than not, Patterson is in the cross-dressing role but in this show, there is nothing like a dame. This time he is Herman, henchman to the Wicked Queen. He is clearly a master of the genre and seeks to make his co-stars corpse through unexpected deviations and improvisations. In a lesser performer this might come across as self-indulgent but Patterson pitches it exactly right so that we are always in on his jokes and have as much fun as he’s having.
The third reason is the script by panto-god Eric Potts. In command of the form, Potts crams the dialogue with quick-fire gags, good and bad. He sticks to the plot but is skilful enough to incorporate a few surprises to keep things fresh. In this version, he dispenses with the usual scene of the dwarfs returning to the cottage to find the fugitive princess asleep on their beds. Instead, they rescue her from a zombie attack to the tune of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. It’s bonkers but it works. Potts knows not to make too many changes; the iconic scene in which Snow White accepts the poisoned apple gets the kiddies screaming. As it should.
The humour is never far from the toilet. This is unpretentious fare although the skills on display are deceptively sophisticated. It takes a lot of hard work to make something appear so joyously shambolic.
Potts brings Snow White to the fore. Played to the hilt by the winsome Katie Elin-Salt, she interacts with the audience and, at the denouement, is assertive in the face of the wicked Queen (a deliciously evil Debbie Chapman). There is strong support from Jamie Tyler’s Prince and Phil Holden as dwarf leader, Prof. But the show is stolen by an adorable turn from Paddy Holden as the silent Loopy.
This version allows the title characters plenty of stage time –it’s remarkable how in others they can be marginalised. My top tip to you is if the poster for the panto doesn’t feature the eponymous characters, watch out!
It may not have the biggest budget but this Snow White is rich in fun and heart, successfully blending traditional elements with contemporary references. I will definitely be back next year.