Writer: Joseph Gardner Hodges
Director and Choreographer: Jay Gardner Hodges
There are colourful sets and eye-catching choreographed routines abound in this otherwise cliche-riddled and repetitive pantomime, Snow White, which is the festive offering at Canterbury’s Malthouse Theatre this year.
It is a story we are largely familiar with, with Snow White falling to the cruel intentions of her Step-Mothers, named in this production as Queen Camilla, a dig it seems in name only at the current monarch, as nothing else is mentioned. As the pantomime rolls on, it falls to Prince Charming, Muddles, Nurse Fanny and The Spirit of the Mirror to save the day. This is a show with admirable intentions, yet too many of the jokes fall flat, and feels a mashup of other pantomimes, at times, glued together.
Emma Harrold is underused as Snow White, and as a result seizes each opportunity to dazzle with an exceptional vocal range. Harrold looks the part and captures the innocence of Snow’s character well, and there is a conscious effort to try and give the Princess more agency in this retelling, with Harrold’s Snow White proposing to her groom once the story unfolds, which Harrold’s head-strong delivery demonstrates successfully.
Alongside Harrold is the excellent Kieran Mellish, who, as Muddles, is the show’s strongest part. Mellish’s portrayal of Muddles captures the fun and spirit of a pantomime, and Mellish looks at ease when leading call and response routines with the audience. Mellish’s ability for physical and well as wordplay comedy is revealed here too, and, despite this being his pantomime debut, you would expect to see Mellish back on stage at Christmas another year.
Ryan Bartholomew’s Prince Charming is hampered by the odd dialogue given to his character. Prince Charming is immediately unlikeable in his first arrogant appearance, but the sudden shift in character to a loving Prince leaves the audience with whiplash. Bartholomew does try to wrestle some middle ground into this character, but Prince Charming, like so many of the characters, often takes a backseat to the show’s detriment.
As Queen Camilla and The Spirit of the Mirror, Rebecca Parker and Jasmine Beel respectively, the pair use their musical theatre background to bring some much needed shine to the production. Parker, in particular, is delightful cruel as the evil Stepmother, and clearly thrives in this role, quickly earning jeers and boos. Meanwhile, Beel’s sweet delivery of The Spirit of the Mirror works well and her heartwarming portrayal of the character, stuck in the mirror at the mercy of the play’s villain, is strong, particularly in Act 2 during a memorable solo routine, supported by an incredible ensemble dancer.
Joseph Gardner Hodges’ Nurse Fanny is the pantomime Dame, and while the character does very quickly earn laughs primarily as a result of her name, the Dame almost threatens to take over the show to the detriment of the production and the story. That said, Gardner Hodges’ vocal range is powerful and it is clear that the performer indulges in this role, making a return to perform at the Malthouse this year.
This production cannot fully compete with the other pantomime offering in the city, yet there are noble attempts to bring slick, West-End style, production choices to the Malthouse stage, which is commendable. The routines are largely well-polished by a hardworking ensemble of five and a brilliant supporting ensemble made up of a local performing arts academy. In addition, David and Sarah Holland’s set design is bright and colourful, with the main set piece, the Dwarves’ (who oddly only appear once in very elaborate costumes) home in the forest, being an impressive feat. Furthermore, the inclusion of pyrotechnics, fake snow and two moving trees which frame the stage are all nice touches too.
However, what this production struggles to escape from is the cliche-riddled script. While Nurse Fanny does get laughs, as mentioned, for her name, this becomes a repetitive gag which borders on dull, with the Mrs Slocombe-style one-liners seemingly lifted straight from last year’s script. This is a problem more widely across the show, where some of the comedic routines fall completely flat, feel like they drag on for too long, or sometimes not long enough, such as gearing up for a messy scene in the bakery just for one splattering of icing sugar. Pantomime scripts are known for pushing the boundaries for double-entendres, but this one falls the other side of the fence at times, feeling more appropriate for an adult panto, than the family-friendly one promised.
There is still a lot to like about the Malthouse Theatre’s offerings. It is supported by a very impressive, just at times underutilised, cast, and the choreography, by director Jay Gardner Hodges, works well within the limited space. The colourful costume, sets and creative lighting choices do add some sparkle to this show, and the young ensemble cast work brilliantly.
There certainly is enough Christmas cheer here to keep audiences entertained, but it is hampered by a script which is riddled with cliches and plot holes, even for a pantomime.
Runs until 1 January 2024