Gone are the heady days when Bristol Hippodrome pantomimes employed universally-known names such as David Hasslehoff, Mickey Rooney and Warwick Davis or any number of British TV heavyweights, think Shane Richie and Barbara Windsor. But, really, great as they all were, Bristol Hippodrome’s pantomime present is every bit as professional and fun as its pantos past. If fact, my 75 year old Dad, who has been to almost every one since 2010, reckons this year’s Snow White is the fairest and funniest of them all.
This is helped in no small way by the welcome return of Andy Ford (Muddles, this year), whose shenanigans and silliness on this December stage had, for my panto-going family (we span 3 generations), become as synonymous with Christmas as Bublé and pigs in blankets. We missed Andy Ford for a few years there but he’s BACK at the Hipp and he’s skilfully flanked by a very, very sparkly (Judge) Rob Rinder as ‘The Man in the Mirror’ and an extremely up-for-it Lesley Joseph of ‘Birds of a Feather’ sit-com fame. Rinder, who came fifth in Strictly 2016 is this year’s camp, complete with hot disco salsa and a costume so sequinned that it could do you eye-damage, while Joseph is masterful at making you boo and laugh at exactly the same time. She brews a perfect concoction of warmth and malice. Hang on, do I actually like Dorian? Odd.
Right here is everything you’d expect and want from a couple of hours of glitzy escapism from another difficult year: a gleeful and brightly decked out ensemble; good choreography (Ashley Nottingham); Ian Westbrook’s festive set that transforms in a flash from foreboding forest to plush palace; creative, cheerful costumes (Mike Coleman); visual effects by TWINS FX that are are guaranteed to leave the younger ones open-mouthed, plenty of songs and, of course, a whole lot of laughs. Oh, and it’s Snow White so we also get a sweet Princess with voice (Charlotte Haines), a Wicked Queen (Joseph, or course) and seven actors literally on their knees playing ‘The Magnificent Seven’, bringing the dwarves bang into a woke 2020s. These are possibly the most hilarious dwarves you’ve seen, their shuffles are very weird in a wonderful way. But which one keeps hollering ‘Proper Job!’? ?
And it’s a particularly Bristol affair, the aptly named Prince Harry Hengrove, played by a warm and handsome Dale Mathurin, for example, and the uproarious sing-a-long with Andy Ford, when we all gesticulate like fools and shout out ’Cheers Drive’, ‘Gert Lush’ ‘My Babber’ etc, plus endless jokes about the wider local area, including Weston-super-Mare (Boooo!). A highlight comes from the staple ’12 Days of Christmas’, performed by the Prince, Muddles, the Wicked Queen and The Man in the Mirror – completely ridiculous and such good, natural fun from a cast that effortlessly gels as they tease and play games on each other, colluding with the audience, who feel every inch a part of the show.
Like many teens, my 15 year old daughter has had a rough time of it lately so it was so good to see her openly laughing for almost two hours straight, her sideways glances to me with a smile that seemed to say, “Muuum, I’m cringing here” juxtaposed with, “Andy Ford is nuts, isn’t he?’ or ‘OMG, those dwarves though …’ And I love that she now gets all the terribly tasteless adult references that are such an integral part of any decent panto. They grow up, these kids, don’t they?
Snow White at the Bristol Hippodrome runs until 2nd January 2022 and is exactly what most of us need to shake off the sad and embrace Christmas. Tickets HERE
Image by Mark Dawson, with thanks