Andy Ford and I have something in common: Snow White is both his and my seventh consecutive pantomime at the Bristol Hippodrome. But while he works hard (yet seemingly effortlessly) to entertain the crowd six nights and a few afternoons every week for over a month, I just have to sit there and laugh my socks off.
Last night was the same: we shouted, clapped, hissed and cried tears of funniness, like we do every year. This pantomime, though, felt slightly different. It was less fussy and easier to follow; everything was simple and the time whizzed past as though someone were fiddling with time. We all agreed that we could happily have taken root in our seats, wanting even more than 2 and a half hours, couldn’t get enough (the perfect antidote to an awful journey of clogged Bristol roads that had the potential to spoil the whole evening for at least a quarter of the audience who couldn’t help but arrive late).
A tale of good triumphing over evil, Snow White has fine breeding for a live Christmas show. Add CBeebies Andy Day to the mix as Muddles and Andy Ford as Herman the Henchman and you make it a very funny place to be. Sprinkle on top a tribe of Seven Dwarves, headed by Warwick Davis as Prof, and your sides might start to ache. Warwick Davis is, almost shockingly, a natural on stage and the kids will be impressed that they have seen someone from a Harry Potter film. My daughter was excited, too, by Warwick’s daughter, Annabelle Davis, up there with him as Snoozy, because she knows her as the mischievous Sasha in CBBC’s The Dumping Ground. The Seven Dwarves made this a panto to remember – watch out for the Talent Show, where Warwick Davis does a completely off-the-wall Elvis, while Danny Blackner’s Loopy performs a brilliant Freddie Mercury that will burn itself into your memory: when my life plays out before me on my death bed, I fully expect that gem to make me laugh all over again.
But it’s not all fun and games, is it? Every good panto needs a believable villain. So it’s very fortunate that Kim Ismay makes us boo every time she attends stage, driving us to hiss like a nest of manic snakes. As the wicked Queen Morgiana, Ismay is not only a proper, vile baddie but she has the strongest singing voice of the night. Here is an actress with a considerable amount of experience.
Francesca Lara Gordon is a sweet, but not saccharine, Snow White. A relative new comer, she more than holds her own, pairing up with Shaun Dalton as a butcher-than-usual, dashing Prince (Clive of Clifton). Their eventual declaration of mutual love elicits a huge ‘aw’ from the audience.
Chris Patterson’s writing gives the usual adults-only humour but it also allows the kids plenty of their own reasons to laugh. The song choices are spot on too, with a blend of YouTube recent favourites and a healthy amount of chart toppers from earlier decades. My personal highlights were Andy Ford singing The Wurzels Blackbird lyrics to the tune of Uptown Funk (how could you not love that, West Country people?) and the Seven Dwarves unexpected rendition of Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. Ha!
The Hippodrome’s set is ultra sparkly and massively colourful, while the Dwarves’ cottage is so inviting that you might actually want to live in it. The costumes add an extra dimension of lavishness – such opulence in places, especially in the Thriller dance, performed by our tireless team of Villagers (in an earlier scene, you can’t help but notice that some of the male dancers are exceedingly fit). A pantomime needs the glue of these dancers so a big ‘yoo-hoo’ to them as a way of thanks and also to the Bristol School of Performing and Bristol School of Dancing, who do a great job of keeping this a bustling and happy stage.
Snow White is much less camp than pantomime can be (there’s no Dame), although no-one is ever going to out-camp Louie Spence’s performance a couple of years ago anyway! But that’s OK. It’s more than OK. This panto is a shining example of Great British Christmas tradition and a real treat everyone who chooses to go and see it! Bristol Hipp Hooray 🙂
Snow White runs at Bristol Hippodrome until 3rd January 2016