Review – Snow White, London Palladium, 29th December 2018

Snow WhiteIt’s the third year that the tradition of the London Palladium panto has been revived, and I nabbed our tickets as early as I could. The last two Palladium pantos have been magnificent with their usual cast recidivists, Julian Clary, Paul Zerdin and Nigel Havers; topped up with Gary Wilmot and Charlie Stemp this year and last year, and a fresh baddie every year – first, Paul O’Grady, next Elaine Paige, and this year, Dawn French. As always, the production department has thrown everything at it – glamorous costumes, lively sets, a glorious orchestra, a superb supporting cast and a very funny script. Are you waiting for me to come up with a “but…..”?

Julian ClaryNo, there’s no buts. This is as exciting, hilarious and downright filthy as you might expect. I’m sure the majority of the children present – and there were surprisingly quite a few for a Saturday night – wouldn’t have understood one word that Julian Clary said; and if they did, then Social Services need a word with the parents. However, hidden within the concoction that is the panto Snow White, there were a few moments that would really appeal to kids: Paul Zerdin as Muddles, with his irrepressible puppet Sam, and Gary Wilmot’s Dame, as ever with a patter song, this time about all the stars that have ever appeared at the Palladium to the tune of I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General. Mr Wilmot had to stop the orchestra, actually, because he left a huge chunk of his list out! One sequence that took me back to my childhood was the appearance of the Palladium Pantaloons, four fast and funny acrobatic guys who took the roof off in the best Charlie Cairoli tradition.

vincent and flaviaKids also like Strictly Come Dancing, and this panto has special guest appearances by Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace. They perform two enchanting dances, the second of which is an Argentine Tango; it’s their speciality and you can’t take your eyes off them. They play the King and Queen but there’s no real attempt to integrate them into the rest of the plot; they’re just a couple of delightful interludes.

Danielle HopeThere’s also romance, in the form of the charming Danielle Hope as Snow White and the irresistible Charlie Stemp as Prince Harry of Hampstead. I’m sure I’m not risking any spoilers when I tell you that the two of them get married in the end, ahhh. That’s not before both of them have run the gamut of side-swipes from the waspish tongue of Mr Clary, of course. As last year, there were moments when Mr Stemp just couldn’t continue for laughing. His star quality shines through; and Mrs C and I can’t wait to see him in Mary Poppins later this year. And Ms Hope did a devilish thing during a slightly ham-fisted piece of comic business; she accidentally switched off the control button on the remote Sam, so when they were meant to be having a conversation together, Sam just sat there, like the dummy he is. One of the children brought on stage for a singalong at the end announced that that was their favourite moment of the show.

gary wilmotEven though they’re not mentioned in the title, Snow White does have her usual team of cohabitees at the house in the forest, here referred to as The Magnificent Seven. I can only presume it’s a copyright issue but none of them bear the same names as their counterparts in the original Disney film. Like, when did Happy become Cheery? Even Doc has now been upgraded to Prof; he must have been awarded an honorary degree somewhere. They are, of course, an ensemble all of their own, but I must say I do always enjoy seeing Craig Garner (Cheery) on stage; I still have very fond memories of his Tommy the Cat in Sheffield’s Dick Whittington a few years ago.

julian clary and nigel haversAnd of course, there’s Nigel. We know it’s Nigel because he has five big letters on stage around which he cavorts, just like Cilla did in her 1960s TV series. By the way, there’s precious little attempt for any of the performers to hide behind their character names. All the way through it’s Nigel, Dawn, Julian, Charlie etc on stage. This year’s ritual humiliation for Nigel is that he has finally been given a part – that of Julian Clary’s understudy. As you would expect, he doesn’t really come up trumps, but I do love how he allows the production to absolutely rip his credibility to shreds.

dawn frenchSo how do the big guns get on in this panto? Julian Clary only has to suggest the whiff of an innuendo and the audience are at his feet. Over the last decade he has become the supreme pantomimier, if there were to be such a word (I’ve just invented it); the arch practitioner who appreciates the combination of apparent innocence and utter filth and understands exactly how far to take it for the best comic effect. He is, of course, supported by the most outrageous costumes imaginable, some of them totally ridiculous. They must weigh a ton, so I reckon he’s stronger than he looks. Dawn French’s Queen Dragonella is, from the start, Dawn French dressed as a regal bully, admitting she hasn’t yet mastered the necessary evil cackle. It’s wonderfully tongue-in-cheek all the way through, from her lascivious (and unsuccessful) chatting up of the Prince, to her final re-emergence as a much more familiar figure. She’s enormous fun (no joke intended) and her obvious lack of scariness is presented as a strength. “You don’t frighten me”, says Mr Clary as the Man in the Mirror, “last year I did eight shows a week with Elaine Paige”. Well, quite.

Paul ZerdinThere are only a handful of seats left for the remaining performances so you’d better get in quick. It’s a feast for all the senses and guaranteed guffaws from start to finish. Can’t wait for next year’s panto!

Nigel HaversP. S. Why do some people have to be so grouchy about letting people in and out of their seats during the interval? We were in the middle of Row G of the stalls and you’ve never met a more unhelpful bunch of surly selfish theatregoers. Beware – if you don’t try to let me through, I may end up stepping on your feet and I am heavy; your risk. Mrs C is much politer than me, but even she was forced to tell the unhelpful youth at the end of the row that she was literally stuck and that he’d have to stand up unless they were both going to stay there all night. Honestly, people, remember your theatre etiquette!

Gary WilmotP. P. S. As we all know, the London Palladium is a theatre of the highest reputation and standing, not only throughout the UK but also the world. On a sold-out Saturday night, I can only imagine the bar takings – they must be tremendous; and that’s good news because all revenue helps keep our theatres alive. Having quaffed a delicious Chardonnay before the show, we returned to collect our pre-ordered interval Chardonnays halfway through. I took my first gulp and it tasted revolting. One look at the liquid and you could tell it was a much, much lighter colour than the wine in the other glass. Could it possibly be that a theatre with the reputation of the Palladium is watering down its wine? We took it to the barman, said it had been watered down and he didn’t deny it – in fact, he quickly and sheepishly replaced both glasses with fresh Chardonnay from the bottle. Buyer beware!

Production photos by Paul Coltas

Review – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Lyceum Theatre, 7th January 2017

Snow White and the Seven DwarfsIt’s that time of the year again when Mrs Chrisparkle and I take Lady Duncansby and her butler Sir William for our annual Sheffield shindig, comprising of panto in the afternoon and Crucible show in the evening. It’s never failed yet. Of course, the main attraction of seeing the Sheffield panto is one’s annual fix of Damian Williams as Pantomime Dame. No one can do it quite like him. And it will come as no surprise that, as always, this season’s Sheffield panto was a laugh-a-minute engaging delight.

sw1So then, Snow White. We all know the story. Poor girl and prince fall in love but wicked queen gets her to eat a bad apple and falls into a coma. Should’ve gone to Waitrose. Prince wakes her up with a kiss and they live happily ever after (Sondheim’s Into The Woods notwithstanding.) So what’s different about this Snow White? Two of the villagers are performed by circus artistes, so there are some balancing acts and roller skating to enjoy. And, naturally, it features some Sheffield-only specialities. The voice (and indeed disembodied face) of the voice in the Mirror (who tells the queen who is the fairest of them all, keep up) is none other than Broomhill’s own Michael Palin, delivering his wisdom with a thick South Yorkshire accent and saying “Up the Blades” a little too often. This year, the famous returning Lyceum Theatre bench/ghost scene has been up-spec’d, as we are called on to don 3-D glasses to see real ghosties – not just actors covered with sheets – looming at the back of the set. This works really well – they interact with the audience with alarming dexterity, and the whole thrilling scene is worthy of its own spot at Disneyland.

sw2And of course, you have Damian Williams as Nurse Nellie, in a series of preposterous outfits, including as the biggest Brownie you ever saw (outfit was good value – 50% off Guide price, boom, boom). His interplay with the boys and girls of the ensemble is as wicked as ever, with sideswipes like “three years at RADA for this”. The ensemble, by the way, are really excellent this year, full of fun and really good singers and dancers. When Prince Charming first arrives, everyone believes he is looking for a wife. At the very thought of it, one of the village girls swoons. When the Prince clarifies that that might not necessarily be the case, one of the village boys swoons. Very nicely done!

sw3But the absolute highlight of the panto was the sequence towards the end when Herman the Henchman, played with great enthusiasm by Richard Franks, finally gets to realise his dream of singing to a live audience, as he turns into Freddie Mercury and presents a sequence of Queen numbers with full backing cast all Mercury-moustachioed. Damian Williams came on for no more than a few seconds looking the spitting image of Mercury in the I Want To Break Free video. The Bohemian Rhapsody element was best of all, as the stage went black and the lights just picked out the seven moustachioed dwarfs in formation giving it the full Scaramouche Fandango treatment. Inspired and brilliant.

sw4Without getting into awkward pitfalls on the subject, I was pleased to see that the seven dwarfs were really that, rather than seven uncomfortable actors hobbling around on their knees. It’s patronising and it looks ridiculous. Our seven chaps brought loads of character to the show, and I particularly enjoyed Deano Whatton as trendy Groover, Graham Hughes as the cynical Brian, and Craig Garner as Cheeky, who sings an overly sentimental song to Snow White yet manages to stay on the right side of mawkish. We’d seen Mr Garner a couple of years ago when he played Dick Whittington’s rather loveable cat, and it’s good to see him back. I loved Jite Ighorodje’s (Brains) game with the audience where he randomly multiplies any set of numbers they threw at him – he’s one smart cookie. And big up to Andrew Martin, who plays Sarge, for his incredible sporting achievements – he’s currently the world number two ranked singles player in Para-Badminton.

sw5Snow White also presents an opportunity for a feisty, larger than life lady to get her teeth into the villainous role of the wicked queen – in this show she’s named Ivannah, which, surprisingly, isn’t used for a series of puns. Wendi Peters takes the role with great gusto; she’s a fantastic singer and the production really uses that strength to great effect. Phil Gallagher is excellent as the friendly and engaging Muddles, and I actually felt sorry for him when his kiss didn’t wake Snow White up. I know, I’m getting very soft in my dotage. Oliver Watton sang well and looked the part of Prince Charming whilst fending off Nurse Nellie’s passionate kisses; and Joanna Sawyer’s powerful voice made for quite a forceful Snow White. They looked great together and will have beautiful babies.

img_8471One final unusual twist – we were encouraged to take photos of the final scene and post them on social media! I guess everyone always wants to see pictures of a Royal Wedding. So here are a few of mine! 2017’s panto willimg_8473 be Mother Goose and will be Damian Williams’ tenth anniversary of playing the dame at the Lyceum. I trust they present him with his own bench, engraved with the words: well! We’ll have to do it again then, won’t we! I have no doubt we’ll be there.

img_8475P. S. No better way to end a panto than to have streamers cascading from the ceiling. I managed to wrap a good strong one round my head and chest, img_8479determined to take it home. Then I saw a little girl two seats away from me desperately looking for some streamer-souvenir. Bravely, I vowed to give her mine if she didn’t find her own. She did!! I kept mine!! Win-win!!!

Production photos (apart from the Royal Wedding photos) by Robert Day

Review – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Birmingham Hippodrome, 11th January 2013

Snow White and the Seven DwarfsAnother pantomime, I hear you exclaim? Aren’t they all finished by now? No, indeed – Snow White runs at the Birmingham Hippodrome until 2nd February. Whereas many pantos start almost at the end of November, the Brum One only starts shortly before Christmas. Therefore you can always fit the Birmingham panto in, if you’re still feeling in the mood for some festive fun as the long days of January dwindle into February.

John PartridgeAnd festive fun is provided in abundance with this glamorous, showbizzy panto, with no expense seemingly spared on costumes, scenery, effects, music and a top quality cast. It boasts a funny script including some wickedly adult double entendres chucked in for good measure and excellent possibilities for hilarious audience participation from both older and younger theatregoers. The wicked queen’s dragon is a splendid effect, huge and vicious looking, hovering over us in the front stalls with the expectation it’s going to swoop down and take one of us away in its claws. Certainly from our viewpoint in Row E, there’s no way of seeing how it worked – I can only assume it’s theGok Wan same technology that had Chitty Chitty Bang Bang sailing through the air a few years ago. Any latent scariness of the dragon gets deflated later on when he’s revealed to have a bostin’ Black Country accent, which is a nice touch. There’s also a very unsettling appearance by an old crone suspended in the air – at first you think she’s some kind of hologram but as she got closer she looked pretty real to me. Spooky enough to make you think they should have used that trick in “The Woman in Black”.

Gary WilmotOf course, it’s all for fun, the majority of which comes from brothers Oddjob and Muddles and their Dame of a mother, Mrs Nora Crumble. This is Gary Wilmot’s first foray into Pantomime Damehood and he makes a smashing job of it. His eternally youthful infectious energy makes him one of my favourite song and dance stars anyway, and his two (self-penned I believe) songs, “Brummie Balti” and “Because You Love Them” are perfectly suited to the comedic and sentimental aspects of the role. I also loved his “OK, Alright” sequence, which took on a life of its own without any audience coaching. Matt Slack is a hilarious Oddjob, joking around the stage all the time, acting like a big kid which appeals to both the kids in the audience and the big kids in all of us. I loved his throwaway impersonations (his version of Joe Pasquale’s “injury at work” advice advert was brilliant) and he was delightfully dismissive of our being hopeless at greeting him with the agreed “Good job, Oddjob” – it’s an awfully difficult tongue-twister to remember Stephanie Beachamwhen you’re laughing. Paul Zerdin as Muddles, usually accompanied by his sidekick Sam, had an excellent rapport with the crowd, and is a highly skilled ventriloquist. Sam appears in a couple of guises, in one of which his mouth stuck in the wide open position in the show we saw, which led to increased hilarity as Mr Zerdin coped manfully with the technical problem. He’s also brilliant with the tiny kids who come on stage at the end – including a really funny vocal trick with the oldest one; and he also administrates a classic variety-style act with a couple from the audience who end up being dummies, doing a little sketch with fantastically funny lines. Congratulations to them too for throwing themselves so whole-heartedly into the fun.

Paul ZerdinI think the loudest appreciation, however, was for Gok Wan as the Man in the Mirror – yes, he who has to tell the wicked queen “who is the fairest of them all”. He certainly grabbed the part (so to speak) with all the flashy campness he could muster, and his advising the queen in exactly the same way he would advise all the women on his TV show (I’m guessing as I haven’t seen it) was extremely funny. I’m not sure the queen would normally respond to “girlfriend” as a term of endearment. Because his whole TV persona is based on advising women on their clothes and their looks, he’s always identifying with, and responding to, the girls in the audience; and, if I have a slight criticism, as a male audience member I felt slightly ignored by him. But then Mrs Chrisparkle did point out that I didn’t have any problem with Linda Lusardi projecting her assets towards the men in the Matt Slackaudience in Sleeping Beauty. Point taken. What was absolutely brilliant, however, was the sequence with all four of these guys doing this year’s version of “if I was not upon the stage, something else I’d rather be” – and this is the only one of this year’s pantos I’ve seen that has included this routine. Mr Slack definitely gets the worst of the deal this year with having to endure both Mr Wilmot’s feather duster popping up between his legs and Mr Wan’s policeman’s truncheon being thrust up his backside. To be honest, I could watch variations on that routine for hours. Mr Wan seemed to enjoy it so much that he it took him ages to be able to get back to the script!

Danielle HopeWith the benefit of hindsight, Muddles and Oddjob were never going to get a look-in with Snow White whilst Princey Prince John was on the scene – showman extraordinaire John Partridge in full-on hearty mode, leading all the singers and dancers in the showbizzy song and dance routines; although when he exhorted us to sing along in the first number because “we all know it”, I’m sorry I couldn’t as it was the first time I’d heard it. Apparently, it’s a song by someone called One Dimension, or something like that. OK I accept I’m probably not the expected demographic! Mr Partridge is a great singer and dancer and brought huge charisma to the part, and his occasional run-ins with Oddjob were hilarious. As the object of his affections, the nation’s Dorothy, Danielle Hope, was a beautiful and charming Snow White, who’s got a fantastically sweet voice and is the embodiment of innocence. Why oh why didn’t she take our advice – freely and loudly given – about not eating the apple? Still, one kiss from Princey and she was back up on her feet in no time. Stephanie Beacham brings a superior gravitas to the role of the queen; she’s unmistakably regal and vain, and carries off a wicked cackle probably better than she ought. She too has a great connection with the audience, as we feel her threats (“I know where you live”, “I’ll have you all sent to Walsall”) personally feel quite intimidating. A real villain to boo and hiss is always a treat.

Finally, where would Snow White be without her seven dwarfs? For this production they’ve chosen not to use real dwarfs but ordinary-sized actors on their knees in clever costumes that hide their real legs and appear to give them shorter, fake, muppet-style comedy legs. I can’t quite decide if this representation works well or not. Something inside made me feel it was slightly patronising, slightly freakish, which would not have been the case if they had simply used actors of restricted growth. It’s a no-win situation really. On the one hand, certainly the kids in the audience all seemed to enjoy their seven-dwarf experience; on the other, later that night Mrs C had a nightmare about them. Anyway, I do hope they were given good knee-padding.

The Birmingham Hippodrome prides itself on having the country’s biggest and brashest panto and I see no reason to dispute this claim. It’s a great show and you’re guaranteed a fun time. See it while you can!