Snow White: Rotten to the Core!

Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper
Above the Stag
Above the Stag Theatre

Briony Rawle as Taleesha, Matthew Baldwin as Nanny and Shaun Mendum as Snow White Credit:
Shaun Mendum as Snow White and Scott Howlett as Prince Charming Credit:
Kris Marc-Joseph as Grizzly Bear, Shaun Mendum as Snow White and Michel Robert-Lowe as Honey Bear Credit:
Christopher Lane as Queen Babs Credit:
Ellen Butler as Fairy Credit:
Andrew Truluck as Town Crier Credit:

London’s gayest panto? I haven’t seen them all but it certainly should be at this, our only full-time professional LGBT theatre.

It is Bradfield and Hooper’s very individual take on the Snow White story as you’ve never known it. There’s Snow who's got a dream that his prince will come (he does), magic mirror, wicked queen, poisoned apple, even promise of a glass coffin, though it never gets that far, but no dwarfs. The downsize cottage may have seven little beds but it belongs to two bears, not quite those in the Goldilocks story, and there is only one Fairy (on stage anyway).

Some of this writing team’s previous pantos have relied too heavily on being outrageous. Last year they delivered much better and they’ve got up another notch this year packed with fun for adult boys and girls that’s deliciously camp but not just that.

Set in Lumley-by-Gosh, a former London borough that has gone independent and built a wall round itself and is now ruled by Queen Babs, bedazzled by his own reflection. Christopher Lane makes him a dangerous diva though stylish, a usurper whose crown really belongs to the lad in the ill-fitting, moth-eaten jumper whose pretty face the magic mirror rates so highly. That’s, of course, Shaun Mendum’s Snow White.

Thank goodness there is not only Ellen Butler’s Fairy to look out for him but his old Nanny too: Matthew Baldwin giving a splendid performance in a traditional Dame role, though gender reversal may not be relevant this time. David Shields once again does wonders in fitting so many sets into this small space and dresses it with style, especially Nanny’s colourful wardrobe.

Scott Howlett’s Prince Charming isn’t a thigh-slapping Prince showing off legs in high boots but a young man pretending to be a journalist, not a very efficient one, and though he does get his shirt off there is less flesh to be seen than has sometimes been on show here. Instead you get some much sharper humour and a touching insight into some relationships.

The songs are tuneful and lively, my favourite a choreographed number that celebrates “two bears and a twink,” splendidly performed by the delightful duo of Michael Robert-Lowes’s Honey Bear and Kris Marc-Joseph’s Grizzled Bear plus young Snow, who blossoms after being cast out of the palace. More of Liam Burke’s dances would have been welcome.

Andrew Truluck gives the Queen’s talking mirror real character, does a brief spot as Town Crier and then provides a nice straight-seeming woodcutter to keep Nanny happy and spirited Briony Rawle is the palace domestic who pairs off with the Fairy.

Except for Babs, who by then has departed, it’s a happy ending all round, audience very much included. Director Andrew Beckett, directing his sixth ATS panto, gives the goods. For its core audience, this one is a must-see. But if you don’t have a ticket, you’ll have to queue for returns: it was sold out before it opened. Just hope they can fit in a few more performances.

This is the last show before Above the Stag moves to its new venue a little way up the railway line. It is a good one to go out on: it’s still wildly outrageous in an ATS Christmas tradition but offers much more than that.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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