The other day, I was trying to explain to a friend from overseas what a pantomime is. I’m not sure I did a very good job; in fact I think I might have scared him a bit. And it was only when I tried to describe the concept to someone who’s never seen a panto before that I realised quite how random – not to mention incredibly British – the whole business is.
I’m not sure what my friend would make of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, this year’s festive offering at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford. Besides all the usual panto jokes and conventions, not to mention songs (it seems Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop The Feeling is this year’s musical number of choice), it also stars TV’s Joe Pasquale, who’s both a much-loved British entertainer and something of an acquired taste.
Like most pantos, the show’s appeal depends primarily on that of its star – if you’re a fan, you’ll have a great time; if not, you may find it a bit hard going. Act 1 of Snow White is very much the Joe Pasquale show; all the other characters become rather secondary while he – as Snow White’s lady’s maid’s son Muddles – messes about, makes fart jokes and interrupts (at length) Snow White’s big romantic moment/mannequin challenge with the dashing Prince Calum of Kent. It’s not sophisticated humour, but we knew that going in; this is basically Joe Pasquale doing what he does best, and his trademark comedy style proves a resounding hit with kids and adults alike.
Act 2 allows the rest of the excellent cast a bit more stage time. Ceri Dupree is particularly fun as Dame Dolly Diamond, in costumes that grow increasingly outrageous and enormous as the show goes on, and Rachel Stanley is a fabulously wicked and deranged Queen Sadista. As Snow White, Victoria Serra doesn’t have a huge amount to do besides fall in love and do the dwarfs’ housework – even her poisoned apple snooze only lasts a couple of minutes – but impresses in the musical numbers with her beautiful voice. Alexis Gerred throws himself energetically into his role as love interest Prince Calum, enduring Pasquale’s playful torture with cheerful good humour, and I wish we could have seen more of the dwarfs who, despite being spectacularly un-PC, brought a cheeky charm to their reworked version of You Raise Me Up (“I now feel four foot tall”).
A couple of words of warning: there are a lot of flashing lights in the show, which are used to great effect at scene changes but can also be slightly headache-inducing. And the show may be a bit frightening for young children; I heard one little girl during the interval talking plaintively about “the scary man in the mirror”, while the 3D segment in Act 2 takes us on a mad dash through the forest and face to face with a variety of nightmarish creatures. (Think Aragog in Harry Potter 2, and you’ll get the idea.)
Technological wizardry aside, Snow White is very much a classic panto; all the familiar cheesy jokes are in there, and just because we know they’re coming it doesn’t make them any less fun (there’s also plenty of humour specifically for the adults, which – I hope – will sail right over the kids’ heads). Joe Pasquale is a likeable lead, supported by a strong and polished cast who all look like they’re having a great time. And that’s a surefire way to ensure the audience do, too.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is at the Orchard Theatre until 31st December.