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Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

by on 12 December 2019

Who’s the Fairest?

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

by Alan McHugh and Jonathan Kiley

QDos Entertainment at Richmond Theatre until 5th January

Review by Mark Aspen

Wham, bang, thank you … if you had any doubt that the six-week annual panto season has opened with a bang, then the proud boast of Qdos Entertainment, one of our  largest producers of pantomime, that it has ordered 44,000 pyrotechnics for the season should reassure you. But deeds speak louder than words in the crazy realm of panto, and the full excitement of this glitz and glam, brash clash, quick-fire world explosively opens Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, to the vociferous delight of the audience of children of all ages.

Snow7.1

It’s all smoke and mirrors, and the first “character” in the role call is that catalyst to the action, The Magic Mirror. A fluid faced and voluminous voiced image is not credited, but is no doubt known to Tom Marshall, the sound designer, who has created a number of impressive effects with lighting and video wizards Pete Watts and Michael Warne. Our Magic Mirror may look as if he has eaten something that hasn’t agreed (a poisoned apple perhaps) but his honesty is unimpeachable.

And talking of impeachment, apart from a brief reference to Donald Trump (as translatable to Duck Fart!), there is, thankfully for a show with its press night on the night of a General Election, almost no reference to politics! In fact after an impersonation of our own Prime Minister, Muddles apologises that he didn’t want to split his audience 52% to 48%.

Snow7.4Muddles, the comic lead, is played by the matchless mimic Jon Clegg (whom we saw at Richmond in last Christmas’s Peter Pan), whose skills as an impersonator quickly engage the audience, particularly those who watch lots of television. Clegg, now on his nineteenth panto, is a natural in the role and comfortable when forced to think on his feet. With spot-on comic timing, Clegg is quick-witted and personable and has a natural rapport with children, so that the matey Muddles soon becomes their favourite.

In short measure, however, we meet the Seven Dwarfs (dwarves? dwarfs?), who march in behind their leader, Skipper. All have names, of course, to match their personal idiosyncrasies, Dozy or Blusher for example. Collectively they are dubbed The Magnificent Seven, the adjective being an epithet well deserved. Actual dwarf actors must nowadays be in short supply, for our Magnificent Seven are standard height actors obliged to spend their on-stage time in sustained cartilage-cracking genuflexion. One must suffer for one’s art, but patellar callouses? The Dwarfs maybe of diminutive stature, but they have big hearts, and our actors are as endearing as they are entertaining in the roles of the affable, kindly and generous Magnificent Seven. The majority seem to hail from the Celtic fringe, so it seems appropriate for them to sing a tune based on Londonderry Air, the old Irish folk song, now as You Raise Me Up. It is as touching as it is hilarious when sung as a serenade to Snow White, and to accompany their building a human pyramid, with the concluding line “ … we now feel four feet tall”. High-ho! Now here is a (48”) highlight to the show.

Snow7.7So Snow White has plenty of chums, which as an orphan she needs, although she does have her long-time nurse, Muddles’ mum, Nurse Nancy. Jason Sutton in a traditional dame role fills Nurse Nancy’s bloomers (and she makes plenty of them) with great aplomb. Of course, as always in a panto, the wardrobe has a field day and Mike Coltman’s speciality costumes do not fail to amaze with their ingenuity. Sutton is known as Miss Jason on the Brighton cabaret circuit, so knows how to take what comes his way. And he can give. Never book a seat in the third row of the stalls if you are a youngish man. Miss Nancy’s audience “love interest” so excites “her” that she later tells him, presumably after a sandwich in the interval, “I’ve been masticating back stage, thinking about you”.

Returning to the plot, the main love interest there is naturally between Snow White and the prince, Prince Harry of Hampton. The Prince’s entrance is resplendent, his black and gold costume complementing the black and gold glitter of the set. James Darch cuts a suave and gallant figure as the Prince. He has an expressive singing voice and can dance with fluency.

Snow7.3A trio comprising Muddles, Nurse Nancy and the Prince excels with a gag rarely now seen in a panto, the running tongue-twister. Muddles is the hapless messenger in a conversation between the others, who are deciding lunch options from opposing wings of the stage. Phrases build one on another and at mid-point something like “Sally selling Sushi in the Sushi store on Saturday … …Sally’s sister Shirley is seen in a shoe shop on Sunday” is developing. There is little margin for error and errors are … unfortunate. It is a priceless episode that had your reviewer, and most of the audience, crying with laughter. Here is another lighheight, I mean highlight.

Mia Starbuck makes a charming Snow White, beautifully partnered with Darch’s Prince Harry, and they have some sensitively expressed duets both in song and in dance. Snow White has some quite affecting moments with the lovelorn dwarfs; in one such charming scene she reads them their favourite book, Little Women.

The energy of the ensemble dancers and their accurate timing is quite remarkable. The styles vary from stately formation dancing in the party scene at the palace, to an appealing ballet as woodland creatures. The Young Set ensemble of child dancers supplements them, creating a delightful margin to the main dancers.

Snow7.9Every panto must have a villain, and in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is Queen Lucretia, an archetypical wicked step-mother. The top-billed star is in fact brand-new to panto, and hasn’t quite got the hang of the bigness of it all. In the role of Lucretia, Jo Brand plays within her small-screen comfort-zone, which is a pity as she is certainly Borgia-esque enough in the part. She has the sneering dismissals of the audience down to a fine art and Brand’s dry sardonicisms and acid tongue are her stock-in-trade. The spiky black and red costume and Doc Marten boots underline Lucretia’s style, impale or squash. But, as we know, the step-mother’s weapon of choice is poison. With the help of dancers as harpies, the apple is transformed with its deadly load in the cauldron, in her Rex Harrison style talk-along song, I Put a Spell on You. Brand’s persona works though in Lucretia’s screechy cackle, and the deadpan directness with which she tells the audience to “Shut it” and Show White to “Bog off”. She has a good line in put-downs. When the Magic Mirror describes her as a “minger”, she scoffs back “Minger! That’s so 2003”. However, when she stomps off flat-footed and not allowing herself to savour the traditional pantomime boos, she gives the impression that she would rather be elsewhere.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has the traditional pitch of jokes at all levels, including those we hope go over the head of the children in the audience. Although politics are wisely skirted around, HM’s beleaguered family is fair game. There is a proposal to go to a well-known pizza chain in Woking and, more explicably, Lucretia says she has “got to go off to get Prince Andrew out of the dressing room”. Nevertheless, the main direction of the jokes is scatological, which fills the children with illicit delight. Although the jokes range from the coarsely puerile (see Trump quip above), they do range to the almost intellectual: “An innuendo? I thought that was an Italian suppository”.

The wonderful thing about panto is that everyone can enjoy it, the cast, the band (and here Pierce Tee and his Richmond Theatre Orchestra had a whale of a time), and the audience, which always ranges from babies to great-grandparents, all getting so much from it. Qdos is a past master of the genre and its Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs continues to bring new ideas to a much loved and well-trodden tradition. The skilful company all play off of each other’s strengths to keep the party jumping. The season’s plethora of pyros is only one element that will make this Christmas’ pantomime season go with a big bang.

Mark Aspen
December 2019

Photography by Craig Sugden

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