Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Andrew Ryan
Martin Dodd for UK Productions
Sunderland Empire

Philip Meeks and Andrew Agnew Credit: Dirk Van Der Werff, Eggshell Blue
Su Pollard and Matt Lapinskas Credit: Dirk Van Der Werff, Eggshell Blue
Victoria Serra and the animals Credit: Dirk Van Der Werff, Eggshell Blue
Victoria Serra and Marr Lapinskas Credit: Dirk Van Der Werff, Eggshell Blue

Pantos are written to a formula: there's a regular cast of characters (the Dame, the Comic and so on) whose names may change but they're always there; there's a range of scenes (take-off, slosh etc.) from which writers select those most appropriate to a particular show; there's... But you know what I mean. They are what make panto.

It follows, then, that panto reviews also tend to follow a formula: what sort of a Dame is it? how funny is the Comic? Again, you know what I mean. Usually there's one character about whom we tend to write the same thing time after time—the Principal Girl. She's sweet and innocent, pretty, sings and dances well and... well, that's about it, really.

Not in the Empire's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Although it's true of Victoria Serra's Snow White, she is much more than this: she's got a mind of her own and a powerful personality, and the show is so much better for it. The same is true of Matt Lapinskas's Prince. Too often a panto can droop a bit when these two, Principal Boy and Principal Girl, are on stage together. Not here!

In every other sense, though, this is a traditional panto: slapstick and mayhem, jokes for all sections of the audience, over-the-top Dame and under-the-thumb Comic, evil villain whom the audience love to hate, audience participation and lots of it, songs traditional and modern, good-looking chorus girls and boys, and cute kids (who nowadays always seem to have to appear in animal costumes at some stage—aaah!).

And as this is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs there's more than a nod in the direction of the Disney film (Was it really released in 1937?): Snow White in any other costume would be unthinkable and woe betide any writer or director who omits "Whistle While You Work" or "Heigh Ho!" We had both—as well as "I'm Wishing" and "Someday My Prince Will Come".

There's no slosh scene but a very inventive haunted bedroom, a noisy take-off and a really hilarious, totally manic version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" which had the audience—and the cast!—howling with laughter.

As ever the show is held together by the Dame (Nurse Penny Well, a local reference, played by Philip Meeks) and the Comic (Muddles the Jester, played by Andrew Agnew). Both establish a great relationship with the audience, as does Su Pollard as the Wicked Queen, although obviously her relationship is a bit different!

The "Aaah factor" of the eight young dancers (three different teams from three different local dance schools) is almost doubled by the Seven Dwarfs, all of whom are appealing in different ways.

Director Simon Rawlings and his team have produced a show which really got the audience, young and old, going! It's a traditional panto in the best sense.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan

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