Writer: Alan McHugh and Michaels Harrison
Director: Michael Harrison
Reviewer: James Garrington
There are three things you can pretty much guarantee at Christmas: the shops will be crowded; the tree lights won’t work; and the Hippodrome will present a blockbuster pantomime. This year’s pantomime is no exception to that rule. Producers Qdos have once again pulled all the stops out to provide a spectacular, star-studded production. Where many regional Christmas shows are content with one or maybe two big-name stars on stage, at the Hippodrome this year we have no less than seven. Add Qdos and their usual extravagant production values, and the result is a feast for the senses from start to finish.
It has to be said, the audience at this performance was certainly out to have a good time, and a good time is what they got. Within a minute of curtain-up, they were clapping along and happily joining in, encouraged by the cast. This is a slightly unconventional take on Snow White as a pantomime, with far less focus on the dwarfs than is sometimes the case, but it doesn’t suffer for that, and the script is hugely funny throughout. Danielle Hope is a wonderful Snow White, and shows how much she has matured as a performer since she won the BBC’s Over the Rainbow to appear in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of The Wizard of Oz. Her singing voice is beautiful and controlled, and it is a shame she doesn’t get more to do in this production; she has certainly proved herself capable of delivering in this sort of environment. What she does do, she does well, showing that in addition to her voice she has good comic timing – and the ability to keep a straight face among the high-jinks going on around her. Alongside her, John Partridge shows his fine singing voice as a handsome Prince John, while Stephanie Beacham carries off the Wicked Queen with a wonderfully evil confidence and stage presence. Gok Wan appears as The Man in the Mirror, all glitz and glamour; I’m sure he would be among the first to admit that his singing voice does not match the quality of some of his co-stars, but in a production with so much going on, that matters little.
Comedy is added to the production by an excellent trio. Gary Wilmot is Nora Crumble, the dame, again in a slightly less prominent rôle than is often the case in pantomime. Wilmot also has a lovely mellow singing voice which feels slightly underused in this production; possibly a result of having so many stars on stage! His song about Birmingham’s trademark dish, the balti, was very well received and only one of a large number of local references in the script. Matt Slack brings his slapstick comedy as Oddjob, clearly not afraid to make a fool of himself in the interest of humour, while ventriloquist Paul Zerdin and puppet Sam show how far technology can change the way a traditional art can be performed. Wilmot, Slack, Zerdin and Wan’s version of ‘‘If I were not upon the stage’ is performed with exquisite comic timing and will remain with me for a long time. Being pantomime, things inevitably go wrong, but they are carried off with aplomb, and everyone is having so much fun that no-one really cares. At one point, Zerdin says “this isn’t my night”; but in fact it is not only his night but in many ways also his show, as he carries most of the story throughout; and he does it with confidence.
This would not be a Hippodrome panto without spectacular effects, and of course that is exactly what we get. This time the star in the effects department is a jaw-dropping flying dragon, which hovers over the front section of the auditorium with no visible means of support to huge gasps of amazement. The effects throughout are superb and show why The TwinsFX are regarded as one of the best effects companies in the country.
This is pantomime at its most spectacular, with bright colours, baddies to boo and good guys to cheer for; and a cast to die for, who are clearly enjoying themselves which is infectious. I cannot imagine there being a better panto anywhere in the country. Whatever else you miss this Christmas, make sure you don’t miss Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. You won’t regret it.
Picture: Keith Pattison |Runs until 14th February 2014