Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Michael Gattrell for Horsham District Council
The Capitol, Horsham
The fact that pantomime has been going for over 300 years makes it all the more exciting when a theatre presents something new and unique to ensure the genre’s constant evolution.
Snow White was one of the most popular titles of the late 20th Century and this season it constitutes the fourth most produced title after Cinderella, Aladdin and Jack and the Beanstalk. Having first been staged as a pantomime during the 1950s, Snow White is also one of the youngest titles and over the last six decades a clear format for its pantomime presentation has crystallized.
Snow White’s Comic is usually called Muddles and the role has always been played by a man. Pantomime is well known for its gender bending, but Horsham’s casting puts a fascinating spin on expected practices by casting Jane Deane in the role.
Deane is an exceptionally talented performer. As Jenny the Jester, she is probably the UK’s only female pantomime performer playing a female Comic this season and one of a very small handful in pantomime’s three century long history.
The female Comic works perfectly, with Deane’s Jenny the Jester going down a storm from the moment she makes her entrance on a unicycle. Tom-boyish in nature, the boys still side with her whilst she importantly shows the girls that they can grow up to be so much more than a stereotype-laden passive Princess. Deane works the audience, addresses every section of the theatre and has the entire auditorium in the palm of her hands whenever onstage. Knowing how to achieve this so effortlessly comes from years of experience and Deane is one of the most skilled in Pantoland.
Paired with Michael Neilson as Herman the Henchman, the two make a delightful double act as Neilson channels Eric Morcambe having appearing as Dame Trott in last year’s Jack and the Beanstalk. Traditionally, Snow White is Dame-less and so Herman the Henchman fulfils the Dame’s duties and provides something for the adults, whilst his comic buffoonery makes the children chuckle. Snow White is also usually bereft of a Fairy, but Michael Gattrell has decided to incorporate such an immortal in the form of an Enchantress played by Amy Compton, who, sadly, receives little stage time at all.
To counter the benevolent agent, a malevolent one comes in the form of Gillian Wright as the Wicked Queen Regina. Although her build-up isn’t strong enough to elicit boos straight away, Wright is a delightfully quirky Queen with shades of Dora Bryan about her. Her characterisation brings out a new side to the devilish despot and, paired with Su Pollard as the Magic Mirror, the production ensures it’s never too scary for younger members of the audience.
As the lovers Snow White and Prince Harry, Daisy Wood-Davis and Bradley Clarkson sing well, but it is rather odd that they suddenly become American during musical numbers. Having played Prince in Windsor last year, Clarkson continues to play the role à la Shrek’s Prince Charming, which is another approach gaining favour in the industry with directors and audiences alike.
There are no babes or juveniles in Horsham’s production this year, which means it falls upon the ensemble to play the dwarves, who in this Snow White are puppets. Similar to Timon in Julie Taymor’s The Lion King, the dwarves are strapped to each performer’s body with rods operating the arms and the mouth manipulated by the puppeteer’s hand. After the critical acclaim of shows such as War Horse and The Lion King, puppets have become respected and fashionable, but in Horsham’s Snow White they don’t quite work as they are not operated by skilled puppeteers trained in how to bring inanimate objects to life.
Gattrell’s script is a little long in the first act and this year the musicians are hidden under the stage, which is a great shame. Microphones don’t appear to be as clear as they could be and having explained the musician’s whereabouts post-walk down and that all of the show’s music is played live, a track identical to music heard earlier in the show plays out as the band members take a bow onstage, resulting in more than a whiff of cynicism.
The Capitol should be applauded for their refreshing casting approach this season, but live music needs to be seen and not just heard. More theatres should follow the Capitol in experimenting with the genre’s stock characters to ensure positive role models for boys and girls alike.
Reviewer: Simon Sladen