Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
First Family Entertainment
New Victoria Theatre, Woking
First Family Entertainment love Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It gets at least one outing every season and this year the title makes up a quarter of their productions across the UK. Whilst also playing in Glasgow and Manchester, the Snow White in question here is that of the New Victoria Theatre, Woking.
As the youngest title in the portfolio of pantomime subjects, Snow White causes some difficulties in appropriating the fairytale for the genre. During the pantomisation process decisions must be made whether to include, amongst other panto staples, a Dame or a Fairy, and writer Eric Potts has decided to ditch both, meaning that in Woking the only cross dressing to be found is with the dwarfs and that Snow White manages to get by without the help of a benevolent agent.
Aimie Atkinson is perfect in the title role of Snow White. She is not too sweet, plays the role truthfully and sings like a lark. Having also played the role in Wimbledon for First Family Entertainment in 2007, she has become somewhat of a pro in the part.
On his search for the most beautiful bride in the kingdom, Gareth Gates offers a most regal and dashing Prince Lorenzo. Gates excels in his musical numbers, but his part appears to be cut to the bare bones, which is a shame as he acts it rather well and has the balance of romance and heroism just right.
Stirring things up is wicked Queen Morgiana played by Claire Sweeney. Her cackling cruel cougar of a Queen is full of glamour and Sweeney is more than at home performing her musical numbers surrounded by dancers.
The Seven Dwarfs' entrance gets the biggest cheer of the night and a special mention must go to Craig Garner as Prof and Maxwell Laird as Grumbly. Both have wonderful comic timing and demonstrate that they are talented character actors who easily upstage the remaining members of the cast.
As Comic Muddles, Noel Brodie delivers an extremely slow opening spot, which rambles on aimlessly about a dislike for teenage Hoodies and is unsuccessful in building any rapport with the audience. It is therefore ironic that Muddles reveals his call-out to be 'Yo Dudes/Yo Muddles' having shown disdain for "Tenglish, or teen English" as he puts it.
Minty from EastEnders, otherwise known as Cliff Parisi, is Herman the Henchman and, although he plays along with the many EastEnders references, he seems out of place and almost lost on the pantomime stage. His performance comes across as sluggish and both he and Brodie are guilty of some rather self-indulgent ad-libbing, which stalls the proceedings and is detrimental to the show's overall pace and energy.
The problem with this Snow White is that certain parts of the jigsaw just don't fit together. Without a Dame, Herman the Henchman must fulfil many of the Dame's roles in the pantomime; however the 'Ghost Gag' falls flat when a ghoul runs off, having seen Parisi's face. The comedy arises from the grotesque nature of the Dame's face, the shared acknowledgment that 'she' is a 'he' and the fact that after her constant search for a man, no-one seems to find her attractive, not even an ugly ghoul. The payoff is also lost in a lacklustre 'Not Here Gag' as only the first part of the front-cloth sequence is delivered. No money passes hands in the bet to prove someone 'not here' and as the gag is not developed, neither Herman nor Muddles get their comeuppances, which, again, results in the piece falling flat.
There is also some confusion as to where this Snow White takes place. The front cloth clearly states 'City of Brovnia, capital of Ruritania', but during the course of the show the kingdom of Moravia is mentioned and Prince Lorenzo comes from Lombardy. Further confusion occurs during a scene in the haunted tower, set in the exact same location as the mirror chamber, which it duly becomes after a short blackout with no change of scenery. Unfortunately the conflict between set and script does not end here.
After being told not to, Snow White leaves the dwarfs' cottage in Act Two to sing with the Prince. If this is supposed to be a dream sequence, it is not clear enough and the addition of smoke would be most beneficial to suggest such a thing. More confusion occurs at the beginning of the pantomime when Gates sings 'Go The Distance' in the Queen's castle, which he later says he hasn't seen. Such script/set clashes seem to result from the script being written for First Family Entertainment's Terry Parson's set, which this year appears elsewhere.
Pantomime requires as much thought and planning as any other form of theatre and it is unfortunate that these final checks don't seem to have been carried out on Woking's Snow White. If the audience are to believe in the show, then the script must be true to itself and cast true to their roles. At present, however, the script is in conflict with the show's set and some cast members are struggling to find their pantomime feet, which has given Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs a somewhat shaky start in Woking.
Playing until 16th January 2011
Read Simon's interview with Gareth Gates
Reviewer: Simon Sladen