‘New Zealand “Neighbours” would’ be just two blokes in a field saying “where is everyone?”’
I’ve pretty much decided to eschew pantomimes this year, not for any particular dislike of the form but rather in a month where I’m trying to fit in something of a social life alongside the theatre, something has to give. But when I was offered the chance to be someone else’s plus one for once for the New Wimbledon panto, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, I couldn’t resist just the one trip to festive frolics. The big name here this year is Priscilla Presley, making her stage debut at the age of 67, who takes on the role of the wicked queen Morgiana, determined to hold onto her title as the fairest in the land.
After an impressive entrance, Presley’s opening scene left me holding my breath a little as the rhyming verse seemed to strangle any sense of personality and came across as a little stiff. But she soon warmed up beautifully and really got into the mood – vamping around the stage to tunes like ‘One Way or Another’ and ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’, playing up to the audience’s boos and ripping her way hilariously through a script full of references that must have flown over her head – some pronunciations were amusingly awry and her quizzically hesitant delivery of ‘…Olly Murs?’ made a mildly amusing joke into a classic, but it is great to see such a star throwing themselves whole-heartedly into the task at hand.
The real star of the show though turns out to be Jarred Christmas, the Kiwi Flight of the Conchords star whose rapid-fire jokes, varied accents and general tomfoolery were a delight and frequently had me howling with laughter. His Herman the Henchman is so effective that it almost makes Lee Carroll’s Muddles, the more traditional panto clown, redundant as he’s left in the dust when it comes to the humour and the audience participation (‘Hello Muddles…, and an unintentionally hilarious trip through The Music Man with the most unwilling 11 year old boy) doesn’t always fly in his hands.
The dwarves are most enjoyable though. Led by Warwick Davies as Prof (and I couldn’t quite work out why the others had been renamed), there’s huge fun to be had whether in the running Ellie Simmonds gag, the flying across the stage or the party pieces they’re all preparing for a talent show. Against these, the leads of Lizzy Jay Hughes’ Snow White and James Austen-Murray’s Prince came across as rather bland – little attempt made to freshen these characters and so there’s not quite the investment in their future that one might hope for.
But all in all, I had a great time. I loved the fact that the songs in the show came from a range of eras, too often a focus on modern pop songs can leave me bewildered (I need Top of the Pops to tell me what the kids are listening to ;-)), I laughed at the local references that peppered the script and for me in any case, it struck the right balance between traditional and modern to make it genuinely enjoyable.