Nothing says Christmas quite like a panto – other than, perhaps, being shocked out of your skin by a man in a Christmas tree costume, but I shall say no more on that. Packed full of magic, music and mischief, the country’s biggest and best professional pantomime never fails to leave audiences full of festive cheer, and this year was no exception.
Beginning with the descent of a sparkling, silver-clad Gok Wan from a magic mirror suspended in the air, the spectacle was superb throughout, with vibrant, colourful costumes, expertly choreographed dance sequences and some breathtaking special effects, including an enormous, terrifying dragon from the darkest, deadliest depths of the Black Country. The show’s many sets were also incredible, seamlessly shifting from one elaborate backdrop to another.
Of course, at it’s heart, pantomime is all about the comedy, and here it was laid on as thick as Dame Nora Crumble’s make-up by Gary Wilmot, Paul Zerdin and Matt Slack as the Dame and her hapless, lovesick sons Muddles and Oddjob. First and foremost a comedian, Slack really stole the show, leaving the audience howling with his slapstick and one-liners. Meanwhile ventriloquist Paul Zerdin built up the humour over longer routines, often involving a lot of audience participation, as in one almost unbearably funny scene where two viewers were called up onto the stage and left at the puppet-master’s mercy. As for the Dame herself, Wilmot excelled at the musical comedy, with a rousing number extolling local Brummie curry dish, balti, and a lovely singing voice that lent itself well to a more sentimental song about motherhood. The highlight of the show, though, was a lightning-speed musical bit packed full of physical comedy and involving all three members of the little family as well as Man in the Mirror Gok Wan: by the end of it, even Gok himself couldn’t keep a straight face, bursting into a fit of uncontrollable giggles.
Though this was his first foray into the world of acting, Gok was, as ever, charming and brilliant, showing off his moves in his own mirror-themed musical number (#FABULOUS!). Equally fabulous in her own way was Stephanie Beacham as the wicked Queen Sadista. Though perhaps not quite the fairest in the land, the glamorous villainess could certainly give most a run for their money, and of her dazzling outfits it was impossible not to be “well jeal”.
Towards the end, her transformation into the old crone was a properly spooky, Hammer-esque moment, featuring a strange, ghostly figure floating above the stage. And as if that wasn’t enough for your Christmas ghost story fix, an appearance is also put in at one point by a mysterious headless horseman….
One general criticism is that less time was spent with the lead characters than might normally be expected, and the story itself was mostly secondary to the comic set pieces. All told, though, it mattered little, since it’s such an energetic and entertaining production that whatever’s lacking in traditional storytelling is more than made up for elsewhere. Without giving too much away, it was especially interesting to see a new take on the story’s ending with the Queen facing a rather unusual fate.
Overall then, a triumph once again. If you haven’t quite got into the festive spirit yet, then a trip to see this show should be just the ticket!
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is showing at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Sunday 2nd February 2014. Don’t forget to check out Gok Does Panto at 7:05pm on Monday 30th December for a look behind the scenes. You might even catch a glimpse of me at the rehearsals in the Jerwood Space in London!
Top photo by Tal Fox. Check out her blog here.