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Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – Milton Keynes Theatre

Reviewer: Kerrie Walters

Writer: Alan McHugh with additional material by Aaron James

Director: Ian Talbot

As the festive season fast approaches, theatres up and down the land are swept up into a frenzy with that great British tradition, the pantomime. Milton Keynes’ offering this year is none other than the seminal classic, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. With everything you would expect: a beautiful princess, a menacing baddie and a giant serving of innuendo, this year’s panto offers all you need. 

Ian Talbot has pulled together an excellent show with exceptional production values. Coupled with Mike Coltman and Teresa Nalton’s quirky costume design and solid classical choreography from Ashley Nottingham, this feels much more like a Matthew Bourne ballet than a Christmas pantomime. The ensemble costumes are like a walking quality street tin, full of sparkle and adding a kaleidoscopic view into the fairy-tale world as they perform their delightfully airy balletic sequences with some particularly gorgeous, paired arabesques with the principals in traditional panto garb. The real show stealers here though are the seven dwarfs realised through ingenious puppetry which adds comedy effortlessly to every scene. Without giving too much away in terms of narrative spoilers, there is a specific scene involving puppetry with the dwarfs and forest creatures which leaves the youngest audience members in stitches. 

The magic of panto lies within its ability to break the usual theatrical conventions and this show is no exception. Paul Chuckle has the audience in the palm of his hand as he bursts onto the stage as Odd Job and launches straight into his shopping song. The children in the audience are captivated by him and the magical sound of the children’s belly laughter rings around the auditorium. He proves that his is a winning formula and both children and parents alike are won over by the Chuckle Vision references. His onstage chemistry with Muddles (Aaron James) is electric and they provide brilliant narration throughout. 

Lesley Joseph takes on the role of the villainous Dragonella, and they really pull out all the stops on this production. She brings fire and explosions, dark magic and of course, her own brand of dry wit to proceedings. She is a natural comic and has the audience in uproar. Such an endearing performer it is a little hard to jeer and boo her as the dastardly Dragonella, instead even the children of the audience are somewhat charmed by her. On this occasion, she accidentally threw some toilet roll at an unexpecting member of the audience on the front row with unintentionally hilarious consequences. Ever the consummate professional, she merely cracked a joke, corpsing the other cast members and leaving the audience in stitches. 

Rob Rinder does a solid job as the man in the mirror, with a flouncy presentation that is camp as Christmas and just as magical. More than once he puts his Strictly training to good use as he shines in the dance numbers. Naturally, given his TV persona, he is also the judge who considers Dragonella’s fate. 

The standout performer of the evening must be Aaron James as Muddles. As a comic, he most certainly does not disappoint. His chemistry with both Chuckle and Joseph creates a holy trinity of fast-paced genuine humour. He also gets the most striking scene of the show in a sequence with a flying vehicle. On press night a missed call or perhaps technical glitch on the lighting desk meant that the inner workings of the stunt were briefly exposed which was a real shame. However, once the lighting was corrected, the sequence was nothing short of spectacular. He looks like a benevolent Hells Angel in this physics-defying stunt that brings Act One to a close. 

Alex Marshall’s lighting design is excellent. It’s a highly creative approach which makes a pleasant change from the usual mix of panto pink wash and gobos. Every aspect of the staging is considered, and effects are used in a way that frankly blew the audience away. Clearly, Marshall and Talbot have worked together intensively to create some genuinely magical illusions. The children are mesmerised by some of the staging which would not be out of place in a large-scale musical. 

Writer Alan McHugh has taken some creative liberties with the narrative of the story with profound effect. These changes work very well and provide a nice twist to an otherwise very formulaic story. 

Pantomime is often the first introduction to theatre for a child and it holds an incredibly special place in British culture. This show offers everything that you could possibly want from that great British tradition, ridiculously long Christmas carols, excellent choreography, audience participation and a hefty helping of double entendre. A fine introduction to British theatre and an excellent family night out. 

Runs Until 8 January 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

A magical family show

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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