South Hill Park
Wilde Theatre, South Hill Park, Bracknell
For the first time in the venue's history, South Hill Park presents Snow White as this year's Christmas pantomime. However, the show may also be a first in other ways as Bart Lee's script completely dispenses with the dwarves.
In a very inventive re-telling of the tale with plenty of creative touches, the dwarves are replaced by the Rainbow Family who live in a cottage with high hopes of becoming comedians. Played by members of the junior ensemble, the Rainbow Children are costumed in rainbow colours from red to violet, with the pantomime Dame acting as head of the family.
Julian Hirst returns to South Hill Park's Wilde Theatre as Dame, director and possibly the only listed dramaturg of the season. His Norman Evans inspired Dame Dotty injects the spirit of pantomime into the production, but, surrounded by children, his Dame is more motherly than manic and there is very little anarchic chaos in the show with him bereft of a sparring partner in the form of the Comic.
This year's Prince takes on some of the Comic's responsibilities with Tristan Pate's foppish royal one of the most inventive aspects of the show's narrative. Captured by the Wicked Queen to become her servant, he is transformed to become hunchbacked Bazza the Bad and lures Snow White to her death as he carries out the Queen's demands. The spell is only broken when a Frog Prince inspired transformation occurs and. with a little help from a host of Princesses, the Prince regains his human form, journeys to Snow White and saves the day.
Transformations and magic are strong throughout the production with some excellent effects including human transformations, levitation and a painting that comes to life put to great use. However, with so many effects and with spells an important part of the show's narrative, it is a shame that the Wicked Queen's transformation into apple seller is completely glossed over.
As the show's narrator, Brad Clapson's Magic Mirror sparkles with charisma and ensures the important aspects of narrative are delivered with panache and glamour. When his narration takes an alternative turn and reveals that Snow White does get murdered, one of the most comic moments of the show occurs as he is confronted by the Rainbow Children who present him with the Disney version of the tale and argue he is wrong. Clapson's reaction to the children is perfectly timed and adds another theatrical frame to the narrative.
For all its inventive flourishes, the production is still more child-orientated than family and offers very little in terms of contemporary cultural references to root the show in the present. Bart Lee's original songs give Snow White the feel of an under-ten children's musical and more could be done to improve the musical numbers' sound, which at present lacks atmosphere as a result of a simple piano melody being chosen over a range of instruments.
In its fortieth anniversary year, South Hill Park has created an inventive re-telling of the well-known tale and the revolving set has helped improved the production's flow immensely. However, just as with last year's Jack and the Beanstalk, a richer sound coupled with more comedy and contemporary cultural references would really bring the show to life.
Reviewer: Simon Sladen