Tag Archives: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Snow Right


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.



Snow White Drifts


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

Not Short on Fun


Malvern Theatres, Thursday 19th December, 2013


Once again Malvern Theatres come up with a Christmas cracker of a pantomime – it works so well because it upholds the familiar traditions of the genre.  At the helm is Chris Pizzey who not only directs (and provided additional material to Andrew Ryan’s marvellously corny script) but also appears as funnyman-in-chief, Muddles, jester to the Wicked Queen.  Pizzey has an instantly likable persona, energetic and clearly enjoying himself.

My only quibble with this Snow White is it takes a while to get going.  I’m not sure that reading out birthday messages and shoutouts to members of the audience is best placed in Muddles’s first monologue.

Olivia Birchenough is a perky Snow White with a more than decent singing voice.  Songs from the Disney animated feature are put to good use along with more up-to-date pop numbers that get the youngsters in the audience singing along.  Pantos that use ‘original’ songs miss a trick in terms of audience engagement.  Seasoned old pro Charles Burden (if I may call him that) is a splendid dame, Snow White’s nursemaid, Dolly, holding his own when it comes to banter with the audience and working like a dream with Pizzey in time-honoured panto routines.

Sue Holderness is an impressive, imperious and enjoyable villain – you almost want her evil plot to succeed!   It is her Wicked Queen who steers the silliness into darker waters.  When she offers Snow White the poisoned apple there is genuine tension in this iconic moment, even though we know what’s going to happen.  The kiddies near me were thoroughly caught up in the action.

Ben Harlow is a charming Prince Frederick, dashing in a camp and goofy kind of way, and director Pizzey gets a lot out of his strong singing voice and his comedic skills.  Pizzey also capitalises on the talents of one of the dwarfs in particular, bringing out ‘Smiler’ (Jamie John) to join the nurse, Muddles and the Prince for a raucous rendition of The 12 Days of Christmas – although I have seen rowdier.

Routines like the ghost scene are executed superbly well, proving that the traditions and tropes of the form are still effective and still have currency in the hands of skilful performers.  And above all, it’s still very, very funny.


Having a Barney

Churchill Theatre, Bromley, Sunday 8th January, 2012

Of all the pantomimes, Snow White is probably the one that is most indelibly marked by the Disney version. Our expectations are both met and confounded in this production. We get several of the classic songs, Whistle While You Work, Someday My Prince Will Come, and so forth, but because of copyright restrictions, the dwarves have to be given different names. Grumpy becomes Grouchy, Dopey becomes Soppy and so on. But this is all by the by. If you want to watch Disney’s seminal version, do so. I was there to see a pantomime and enjoy the tropes of the genre as they stand – that is where my expectations lie.

The show – and this was its final performance – does not disappoint. The elements of traditional panto are all there, apart from the cross-dressing: no dame, no principal boy, but you can’t have everything, I suppose.

The familiar tale is diverted in this version by the character of Muddles, the court jester, a sort of Buttons figure, who encourages most of the audience participation and interaction. Played by TV’s Barney Harwood, this is no bad thing at all. His cheeky face is matched by his cheeky humour. Less of a jester and more of a naughty schoolboy, Muddles ambles his way through the plot, mocking the authority figures and entertaining his friends. There is more toilet humour here than in any panto I’ve seen this season. He wouldn’t get away with this on Blue Peter. Harwood is a confident, easy-going presence on the stage, able to throw away lines and clown around in an exaggerated manner. There is always a twinkle in his eye and a knowing look to the audience. The kids all adore him anyway and it is not an arduous task for him to win over the mums and dads.

As the Wicked Queen, Patsy Kensit does her share of chewing the scenery. She has her moments and is clearly enjoying herself. She doesn’t get to sing so there is no danger of hearing any of her Eighth Wonder songs like…um, well, you know, that one…

Sarah Lark, from the Search-for-a-Nancy TV talent show, is a likeable and energetic Snow White (the costume is pure Disney) but the surprise of the night comes in the form of Prince Frederick (Ben Harlow) a tall, gangling figure, preening and posturing like a male model-cum-matinee idol. It is a lovely touch that adds humour to what can be a bland character.

Technically, the show gives us figures appearing in a giant crystal ball and a video projection for the Magic Mirror – most of our enjoyment comes from Barney Harwood and his double act with former EastEnders scruffbag, David Spinx as Ramsbottom, the Queen’s henchman. He plays a mean electric guitar, let me tell you.

Unlike some other productions, this one gives us real-live actual dwarves, some of them better performers than others. I particularly liked Nathan Phillips as Grouchy and Lauren Harrand as Kip. There was a poignant scene around Snow White’s coffin and even a darker tone with the Wicked Queen being punished rather than rehabilitated as in some versions.

Judging by the numbers in attendance and the buzz of excitement as the audience shuffled to the exits, I’d say panto is alive and well as long as shows of this standard continue to be produced.

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’.