Review – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Richmond Theatre, 29th December 2019

81706593_1080381688964233_4416643972898750464_nFinal show of the year, third panto of the year and second panto that we’ve seen at Richmond. We came back hot on the success of last year’s Peter Pan, with a deliciously villainous Robert Lindsay and the dancing sprite that is Harry Francis. And it’s a beautiful theatre with a lovely vibe, so why wouldn’t we return?

Wicked QueenThis year they treated us to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It was enjoyable, but it wasn’t a classic by any means. Whilst some aspects were excellent, others didn’t work for me at all. For example, you know that local rivalry panto theme, where the script includes the occasional reference to local towns so that they can take the mickey out of them? They did it to death. And in Richmond that comes across as rather snobby; all the local references (and there genuinely must have been more than a dozen – tedious when you’re not local) implied that those other places rated somewhere between grotty and criminal underworld, whereas Richmond is sweetly genteel. Provoked my inner socialist and got on my nerves, if I’m honest.

Wicked Queen againWhen we saw that this year Jo Brand would be playing the Wicked Queen we instantly jumped at the chance; surely, that’s a casting made in heaven? Surprisingly, and disappointingly, it isn’t. Whilst I am a huge fan of Ms Brand in her TV appearances, I was quite shocked at how out of place she seemed to be on a stage. Don’t get me wrong; she looked perfect, deployed that contemptuous stare and voice to full effect, and got a load of laughs in the process. But, for a comedy legend, I felt that her timing was off; and she had a tendency to recite her lines rather than act them. Her performance didn’t flow; it was like a collection of individual modules where she had a line here and a bit of business there and they were all sequenced so that she could go from one to the other, but you could see the break in concentration and commitment between each section. Her eyes said: “I’ve done that line, so now I have to stand over here and wait for the next bit”. Maybe further back in the theatre that might not have been so noticeable; but Mrs Chrisparkle and I were centre of the second row and it looked very obvious to us. I’m afraid I wasn’t convinced.

Muddles and Snow WhiteFortunately, we were also in the company of Jon Clegg as Muddles who kept the whole show going at a cracking pace. His interaction with the audience and, particularly, the kids, works incredibly well; he managed to make the “one smart feller he felt smart” song with the kids on stage at the end genuinely funny. And, of course, he is a terrific impressionist. However – and this was a fascinating general observation – all the Brexit/Boris Johnson jokes and impersonations fell flat as a pancake. I can only assume that we’ve all had far too much politics for one year, and there’s absolutely nothing funny to laugh about in the situation the country has got itself. This audience, at least, had come to the Richmond Theatre to escape the woes of Whitehall, not to be reminded of them.

Nurse NancyJason Sutton gave it his all as Nurse Nancy, including some delightful corpsing during the scene where Muddles had to convey the increasingly difficult tongue-twisters between Nancy and the Prince. His (her) pestering of the poor chap in the front row as New Boyfriend Material worked very well – and he took it in good spirit too. James Darch cut a suave figure as Prince Harry of Hampton, and his singing and dancing with Mia Starbuck’s Snow White was probably the best thing about this panto – as indeed were the girls and boys of Babette Langford’s Young Set, who gave a stupendously good performance.

Prince HarryThere are two ways you can play the dwarfs; either with seven short gentlemen as the title suggests, or with seven full sized actors hobbling around on their knees. This production went for the latter option. I can never decide which side of the divide I fall on with this argument. Ideally, the roles should go to the people most suited to the job, depending on acting/singing/etc ability. But I also can’t help but feel that when a production doesn’t use actors of restricted growth, that it deprives them of one of their best chances of a good job in the entire year. Our Magnificent Seven, as the programme likes to call them, were full of spark and character, in excellent voice and probably the campest portrayal of the seven that I’ve ever seen; and I’m still trying to decide if that works or not. I have to say the kids in the audience didn’t give them the huge reception that in my experience normally greets the dwarfs – maybe they were disappointed at the stage pretence. You can’t fool kids at the panto.

Snow White and QueenOn the whole, this show didn’t quite hit the target – certainly nothing like the bullseye that was last year’s. In its favour, it got the level of adult humour versus appropriate for kids spot on, which neither of the other two we’d seen this December achieved (and let’s face it, Goldilocks didn’t even try). But it lacked a touch of magic, a sense of sincerity perhaps, that could have turned a good panto into a great one.

Production photos by Craig Sugden

Review – Cinderella, Derngate, Northampton, 11th December 2012

CinderellaBobby Davro was such a popular panto star last year that the Royal and Derngate invited him back again for this year’s spectacular. And, just like last year, it’s a rip-roaring Christmas cracker of a panto with a really funny script and loads of entertainment for all ages. Mrs Chrisparkle and I noted how amusing it is when you see lots of kids laugh their heads off at some of the more “adult” lines, even though they clearly haven’t got a clue why it’s funny! There are lots of such moments in this show.

Bobby DavroIt’s a beautiful set, with lavish costumes, a bright and breezy band and a feelgood factor running all the way through it. This year’s panto is sponsored by Skype, which means that particular form of communication conduit gets the odd mention, but it felt less laboured than in previous years when they kept on wheeling on that Churchill dog for no good reason.

Denise WelchBobby Davro can do no wrong on that stage – you can never quite tell what’s scripted and what’s not, all of which adds to the spontaneity of the humour. His winning, instant rapport with the audience works a treat and you can’t resist being in his gang for the night. He clearly has a happy relationship with the rest of the cast and that too helps the evening go with a bang. He’s also given lots of opportunities for impersonations, all of which are spot on. He repeats his crowd pleasing routine from last year with getting the audience bouncing up and down to Tie Me Kangaroo Down, but this year his marsupial companion gets way out of hand – with absolutely hilarious consequences.

Danielle YorkDenise Welch makes a rather “knowing” Fairy Godmother, recollecting her previous experiences with Jack (of the Beanstalk fame) and considering the potential usefulness of Prince Charming if Cinderella doesn’t get him. I was surprised what a clear singing voice she has too.

Andy BradyCinderella is played by Danielle York with charm and enthusiasm; she and Mr Davro make a great double act – at its best with the chocolate shopping trolley routine – and her singing and dancing are very entertaining too. Most easy on the eye as well, if I may be so sexist; plenty for the dads, as Dara O’Briain would say. Her dad, Roy Sampson’s Hardup, gave excellent support in all his scenes, as the poor but idle Baron; including a very funny brief appearance as a policeman.

Darren SouthworthTulisa and Jessie, the Ugly Sisters, are another powerful combination, and Andy Brady and Darren Southworth get great comedy value out of their superbly hideous characters. They brighten the stage every time they come on, and give very good “oh no you’re not, oh yes you are’s”. Mrs C was very impressed with their homage to Lady Gaga in their opening number.

Roy SampsonThe double act of the Prince and Dandini work very well, with James Darch’s Prince oozing grandness and superiority whilst Josh Coburn’s Dandini is a good rottweiler protecting his master. Mr Coburn comes into his own though with the set piece “If I were not upon the stage…” number. This is always a laugh whenever you see it, James Darchin panto or “end of the pier” show, but Mr Coburn’s appearance and the treatment he suffers by being stood next to Mr Davro is hilarious and deserves (and gets) the biggest cheer of all at curtain call. He’s clearly a good sport!

Josh CoburnThere’s a great young ensemble of singers and dancers who look perfect and dance really well, and the kids from the Mayhew School of Dancing lighten up the stage and perform with confident ease.

It’s a really funny evening – uplifting, colourful, musical, and performed throughout with great energy and excitement. We loved it!