Alan McHugh and David McGillivray
Hot on the heels of Wolverine, Maleficent and Bumblebee, the Palladium welcomes the latest in a long line of origin stories as Snow White reveals the humble beginnings of Geraldine Granger, Vicar of Dibley.
The best pantomimes end with a triumphant resolution and the payoff to the Palladium's latest offering must surely be one of the best. In her pantomime debut, Dawn French owns the stage as her Wicked Queen seeks to dispose of Snow White and nab herself a new boyfriend.
Demonstrating the very essence of why she's one of the UK's greatest comedians, French's Dragonella summons more laughs than boos, many of which come from her haka-cum-chesty-cough-inspired attempt at a wicked cackle. As has become custom for the Palladium panto, French constantly steps outside the performance frame to comment on the absurdities of the practice whilst narrating her own stage directions and drawing attention to the illusory nature of performance. The self-referential awareness adds another layer of humour to the already comic laden production which embraces humour in all its forms and across all levels.
Julian Clary's sublime Man in the Mirror graces the stage dripping in sparkle and innuendo, serving tasty treat after mischievous morsel for the audience's delectation. With an array of extravagant costumes, each one surely exceeding the budget of other theatres’ festive offerings, he drives the show forward and is joined once more by his panto pal Nigel Havers, who this year longs to go on for Clary as his understudy.
With French, Clary and Havers all drawing attention to the pretence of pantomime, the production does chip a little too far away at the stage magic. Even though the audience is mostly adults, children are present and should be permitted the opportunity to be transported without the illusion being constantly shattered. Similarly, whilst innuendo can be explained away, swearing sullies the innocence of the form and certainly shouldn’t appear in family entertainment.
A production packed full of perfectly executed front-cloth routines, Gary Wilmot's Dame Nora Crumble yet again steals the show with a musical can-can full of Palladium performers whilst bringing a tear to the eye in an ode to motherhood. However, a refrain which sees Cheery the Dwarf ask Nora to adopt him seems a somewhat sudden addition to the narrative which is dropped as soon as established.
Indeed, a number of routines seem merely present to pad out the wafer-thin plot and pile on the spectacle. A sequence of acrobatics as the Prince prepares to set out for Snow White overstays its welcome, whilst Strictly’s Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace as the King and Queen receive two dreamlike dances dropped in for good measure devoid of any real explanation all at the cost of the talented team of Dwarves, who feature but fleetingly and are even absent from the show’s title.
Charlie Stemp's Prince Harry of Hampstead cuts a dashing figure and ever more follows in the footsteps of Tommy Steele, having performed in Half a Sixpence and now a return season at the London Palladium. Also returning to the stage is Danielle Hope, last seen in The Wizard of Oz at the venue, whose Snow White captures the charming fairytale essence of the Principal Girl.
Ventriloquist Paul Zerdin completes the line-up, having previously appeared with Hope and Wilmot in Snow White at the Birmingham Hippodrome back in 2013. New to the 2018 production, a scene in which Muddles, Queen Dragonella and the Man in the Mirror try to resolve some missing catering from sushi and shoe-shining shop-worker sisters Shirley and Sharon, secures shrieks of laughter and demonstrates how the simplest of gags can provide the biggest of laughs. But with Snow White constituting Zerdin's third appearance at the Palladium, a fourth may push his material too far with many aspects of his act with puppet Sam closely shadowing previous years.
Three more years of pantomime at the Palladium have been confirmed, an early Christmas present for everyone. With the most exquisite costumes of any stage, Hugh Durrant, Ron Briggs, Teresa Nalton and Mike Coltman transport Argyll Street to a snowy winter wonderland of dreams supported by Ian Westbrook’s colourful set and the Twins FX’s awe-inspiring special effects.
A lavish production of excess and extravagance, Snow White continues the Palladium’s reign as the home of pantomime.
Reviewer: Simon Sladen