Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Andrew Ryan with additional material by Tom Whalley
Martin Dodd for UK Productions
Sunderland Empire

Snow White (Clare Maynard) and dancers
The Wicked Queen (Su Pollard) and the Dwarfs
Muddles the Jester (Tom Whalley)
Nurse Rorina (Miss Rory), The Prince (Jonathan Carlton) & Muddles (Tom Whalley)
Muddles (Tom Whalley) & the Wicked Queen (Su Pollard)
Snow White (Clare Maynard) & the Dancers
Snow White (Clare Maynard), Nurse Rorina (Miss Rory) & Muddles (Tom Whalley)
Nurse Rorina (Miss Rory) & the Dancers

I don’t think I’ve laughed so much at a panto for a long time, and that says a lot because huge amounts of comedy have been the stand-out feature of those I’ve seen this season.

The traditional old jokes are well represented: the Dame confesses, “Whenever I’m down in the dumps, I buy a new dress” to which the reply comes, “I wondered where you got them from!” But it’s not the Comic, Muddles the Jester, who says it but Snow White, and that really does give it an extra punch.

There are an awful lot of newly minted jokes, too, which I predict will have a real future in panto. But no, I’m not going to tell you any of them; no spoilers here!

Then we have that standard comic song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, which, if I’m not mistaken, I first saw / heard in Jack and the Beanstalk at Newcastle Theatre Royal in 2006. The inventiveness of the various things my “true love gave to me” is the usual appeal of the song but here, in addition to that, there’s the fact that the singers are frantically trying to put each other off and there is total and hilarious mayhem on stage from beginning to end.

Comic Tom Whalley, born in South Shields, is credited as providing “additional material” to Andrew Ryan’s script and I suspect that much of that was the localisation, putting the show firmly, not in a generic North East but in Sunderland, or Mackemland as it is called in the show. Mind you, if I came from Grindon or Hendon I might feel a bit persecuted, but then I live in Roker, a very royal part of the city according to the script!

(And I do believe that this is the first Sunderland-set panto I’ve ever seen in which the people of Pennywell don’t get hammered!)

And there’s also a (very minor, but funny) subversion of the always popular take-off scene. No slosh scene, of course, but it’s hard to see how one would fit; it would have to be shoe-horned in.

At the forefront of the comedy, of course, are the Dame Nurse Rorina, played by "North East Queen of Comedy" Miss Rory, and the Comic Tom Whalley who first appeared together in the Empire’s 2019 panto Cinderella.

Whalley, of course, has a wide experience of panto—he’s written quite a few—and he’s full of energy, inhabiting the stage like a whirlwind and keeping the audience, kids and adults, howling with laughter. Miss Rory, on the other hand, is really quite statuesque whilst still being very funny, and their contrasting styles really spark off each other.

Su Pollard plays the Wicked Queen as a straight-down-the-line villain but just occasionally we caught a glimpse of Peggy Ollerenshaw which delighted the audience. She manages that delicate balance—so delicate that many villains don’t achieve it!—of being hated and at the same time loved by the audience.

Clare Maynard’s Snow White is in every way the perfect Principal Girl whilst Jonathan Carlton’s Prince is everything we expect of the Principal Boy and does get his comic moment in the manic “Twelve Days of Christmas”, throwing himself into it whole-heartedly.

And yes, the Seven are magnificent, a mixture of very experienced performers and newcomers, and they include one married couple, Denise and Willy Coppen who have been married for 28 years. He’s played in many pantos but this is Denise’s first. You wouldn’t think it!

Six dancers—four girls, two boys—complete the cast and, as every panto, touring musical and dance show proves time and time again, they reflect the high standard of performance, skill and talent we have in this field in Britain.

Great show! Loved every minute and howled with laughter throughout—and when you consider the first professional panto I worked on was in 1968, that says a hell of a lot!

Reviewer: Peter Lathan