SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS
Birmingham Hippodrome, Monday 23rd December 2019
If you like your pantomimes to come with lashings of glitz, glamour and spectacle, you come to the Hippodrome’s annual extravaganza – and you won’t be disappointed. This production, originally staged at the London Palladium last Christmas, stints on nothing as it aims to impress. The key ingredient for a pantomime to work is its cast and here too, we are not sold short.
The show opens with the Magnificent Seven, the dwarfs, who provide the customary exposition in rhyming couplets. They handle the verse well and have a big impact – it’s a shame then that they disappear from proceedings for quite a while. And I feel they could be featured more, in comedy routines – they don’t appear to be lacking in talent.
Joe McElderry is the Spirit of the Mirror, a kind of good fairy; he reminds us how great an entertainer he is and, wisely, director Michael Harrison makes good use of him for musical numbers. McElderry is paired with handsome Prince Harry of Harborne, rising star Jac Yarrow – their voices fit well together, Yarrow’s musical theatre tones blending with McElderry’s pop star vocals. They are a duo to be reckoned with. Yarrow is suitably dashing in princely garb but, like many of the characters, has to play the straight man to comic turn ‘Muddles’ a kind of Buttons character, played by the Hippodrome’s resident panto star, Matt Slack.
Slack, returning for his 120th year – oh, wait, am I confusing it with the theatre’s birthday celebrations? – has an appreciative fan base in Birmingham, and he has plenty of opportunity to showcase his skills: his impressions, his physicality, his daftness, all of which have an underlying wit and intelligence. Slack is great at what he does, (although I can find him a little overbearing at times), and his shtick invariably goes down well. There is nothing slack about his professionalism.
Slack’s brilliance comes at a price. Consummate pantomime dame Andrew Ryan is underused. Rather than a comic turn in her own right, his Nanny Annie is a sidekick for Muddles’s shenanigans. Similarly, delightfully deadpan Doreen Tipton is restricted to being part of the troupe and is not given her moment to shine with a song or a monologue or recitation.
Faye Brooks exudes sweetness as the titular princess. She sings sweetly too – there is a plot twist that works brilliantly, giving her character more oomph.
But for me the undisputed star of the show is the mighty Lesley Joseph as the wicked Queen Dragonella. A seasoned pro, Joseph pitches the role perfectly, so we find her villainy delectable and her diva-esque ravings high camp. She is not above making a laughing-stock of herself and she looks fabulous. The best panto villain I’ve seen this year.
Everything about the show says quality. The dancers, the costumes, the beautiful set… Britain’s Got Talent’s urban dance act, Flawless crop up as the palace guards, bringing slick moves and also a sense of humour. Of course, Matt Slack gets in on the act – and it’s one of the show’s funniest and most impressive moments.
All in all, this slick production is as entertaining as you could wish. All the right ingredients are there – it’s just that some of them are overpowered by the flavour of others.