Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Gala Theatre, Durham
Pantoni Pantomimes is to mid-scale theatres what Qdos is to their larger sisters and, given the constraints of the inevitable lower budgets and smaller stages, they produce shows with generally high production values. The sets for Snow White are excellent (and the changes commendably fast), the music sounds much fuller than a band of two has any right to expect to produce, the lighting is effective, the costumes beautiful and the choreography (given the fact that there are only two professional dancers, the other two being teenagers from a local dance school) interesting and effective.
There is nothing to complain of in the performances: indeed, Pee Wee Price (as Muddles the jester) works his socks off and the others provide good support. So why does it not quite come off?
Partially it's the script, which is too wordy. Fairy Snowdrop (Vickee Lester) has an awful lot to say, particularly at the beginning when she has to set the scene. Since she follows directly after the overture, the excitement which surges as the lights go down is to a considerable extent dissipated by this over-long prologue. And this is not, by the way, a criticism of Ms Lester who does what she has to do well: she just has to do too much at the wrong time.
Pee Wee Price, too, has far too much to do. He has to carry most of the comedy, usually without anyone to bounce off. In most pantos the comic has the dame to work with, but here there is no dame (a panto without a dame!) and his opportunities to work with the other comic characters were limited. The success of the 8-piece crockery set gag (with the Tax Collector, Chamberlain and Queen) and the echo gag (mainly with the Queen) shows what could have been. However most of the time he is left to work the audience on his own and, when the audience is slow to respond, as it was on the press night, he is forced to use all his comic arsenal time after time.
The dwarfs also tended to slow things down. Again, it was not the fault of the performers (the Babes in big-heads) but their voices are pre-recorded and actually sound divorced from the action. I got the impression that more thought had been given to differentiating the voices (we had, among others, a Leslie Philips, a Bluebottle, and a Kenneth Williams) than to making their speaking appropriate to what was going on - and of course the recording sets the dynamic of the scene rather than the performers' responding to the audience.
But the acid test of any panto is the reaction of the audience. Remembering the buzz that accompanied last year's Cinderella, the excitement when the curtain went up which was maintained through the interval and after the show came down, this show didn't measure up. But of course, as any performer will tell you, audiences differ widely from performance to perfomance, and no doubt they will have much better nights than this one.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan