All White on the night for Alban Arena panto
IT’S not often that a pantomime triumphs on the strength of a multi-layered, post-modern script and a stand-out performance from one of the least-known members of the cast.
But the Alban Arena’s version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs manages to capture the spirit of 1970s BBC light entertainment and inject it with a 21st Century twist, producing a piece of festive theatre which for once entertains the adults just as much as the kids.
And the reason for this isn’t the likes of headline stars Toyah Willcox or CBeebies’ Mr Maker (Phil Gallagher) – not that they weren’t worth every penny the Arena paid to secure their services – it’s just that for me the highlight of the show was St Albans’ own Bob Golding, who turned in a remarkable performance as Herman the Henchman.
Channelling the ghost of Eric Morecambe himself wasn’t difficult for Bob, who played the role in an award-winning West End play, but it was how he interacted with the rest of the cast that really pushed all the buttons, developing an excellent rapport with Gallagher’s Muddles, and treating the likes of Prince Charming (David McGranaghan) as his unfortunate straight man for a host of set-up jokes.
Although pantomime traditionally breaks the fourth wall, Golding was allowed to take things one step further, chastising minor characters for building up their parts, and telling the audience that “this isn’t Chekov” when they failed to warn Snow White about her impending death.
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It would be easy to base an entire review on Bob’s performance, but that wouldn’t be fair on the rest of the cast, who excelled in offering new depth to what are essentially very two-dimensional roles, again thanks to Paul Hendy’s sharply-penned script.
Jemma Carlisle brought Snow White to life without ever veering into saccharin sweetness, her innocence endearing instead of annoying, and she worked well alongside a Prince who was really little more than fake tan, pearly whites and brawn instead of brains, which McGranaghan portrayed admirably.
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Toyah created an interpretation of the wicked Queen Ivannah which actually captured the inherent vanity of an aging beauty slowly losing her looks, and a jealousy of the young which that prompted within her – aided of course by her ever-exemplary vocals belting out a selection of revamped Rolling Stones classics. And in an unbilled cameo (just like those TV Christmas specials of years gone by!), her Magic Mirror was played by none other than Phil Daniels, pre-recorded of course, but a nice unexpected touch nonetheless.
The majority of the songs were actually reworkings of well-known hits, including the likes of Just Haven’t Met You Yet, Thriller and a first-rate medley of Madness hits including Our House, House of Fun and Baggy Trousers, the latter complete with “nutty” dance, and in such company unfortunately some of the original numbers fell a bit flat.
With Warwick Davis apparently representing most of them on TV’s Life’s Too Short, it was initially a bit disconcerting to see the show’s stars feature as the Seven Dwarfs, especially after watching them slate Davis for only getting them panto parts in a recent episode. But that was soon forgotten, and a team led by George Appleby, Michael Caballero and Phil Holden proved consummate professionals, ensuring a packed Arena was singing along with them happily.
Copyright restrictions prevent the use of more familiar names like Happy, Doc and Sneezy and songs like Hi-ho!, but this wasn’t too much of a hurdle for the producers to get round, meaning we were treated to the likes of Cheeky, Groovy and Sniffly singing their way through a song which began with the chorus “Hel-loooo!”
Pantomimes can be very run of the mill, with performers going through the motions and offering the same-old, same-old, time after time. You can be guaranteed that this isn’t the case at the Alban Arena, with this season’s show undoubtedly one of the strongest you’re likely to see this or any other year. Outstanding.