Nothing beats a good old fashioned Christmas Panto. Hoxton Hall, surely one of the most beautiful music halls remaining in London, caps off the season with its first ever one – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, with an East End twist. If these sound like the ingredients for a right, royal knees up at Christmas, you’d be right. In this department, the show is much more ‘Oh yes it is,’ than ‘Oh no it isn’t.’
Writer Marc Day hasn’t exactly embellished the original Grimm’s Tale, or the 1937 Disney film for that matter. There’s still a Wicked Queen (Catherine Morris) with a Magic Mirror, who wants to be the fairest in the land but can’t be because that title is already given to Snow White (Sarah Bakker). Business as usual occurs: Miss White is left in the forest, stays with some Dwarfs, Queen comes after her, Prince (Rodney Vubya) comes to save her, everything you know about the story is present and correct here. And why not? If it ain’t broke and all that.
We also get some new characters, our very up-to-date Dame (Marc Dehaney), who doubles for the Huntsman in a cracking scene, and her companion Muddles (Sam Hoye) – no prizes for guessing his main personality trait. These two newbies provide the majority of the comic relief, especially Dehaney’s Dame, throwing around pop culture references like they’re going out of fashion (ironically some already were). There’re well-known songs from well-known establishments (Queen, Take That, Monty Python) chucked in for good measure and, curiously, some very skilled aerial silk performance from the Forest Fairy (Suzie Smith), which wouldn’t be out of place at Cirque du Soleil. As for the East End ‘twist?’ This seemed to be characters simply making references to Hoxton and the surrounding areas, Stratford comically billed as the exotic sounding homeland of the Prince for example. This feels rather commonplace in Panto though – it’s not completely out of the question to expect this elsewhere is it?
Standout performance has to go to Vubya as Prince Richard, his effortless charisma shines through and boy, can the boy sing. His timing is great, his diction is great, his stage presence is terrific – he’s the kind of young performer you really want to see excel in the future. Bakker is also good – prim, proper and oh so polite, but not very loud either. This show badly needs microphones, the singing is barely audible over the blaring backing tracks, but you can’t help but think Bakker probably needs one for her dialogue as well. Yes, the room is full of children noisily having a lovely time but this isn’t a problem for other actors, especially Morris who practically bellows every one of her lines in an effort to be heard. She makes for such a deliciously demonic antagonist, you can’t help but love the character; her incensed performance of ‘Loathing’ from Wicked is easily the musical highlight of the show. Finally, the big question surrounding all productions of Snow White, how are the Dwarfs? Well, the solution is both adorable and terrifying – dressing up small girls in hats and beards, whilst having their lines delivered by a recording of grown men. The juxtaposition is uneasy at first but the idea warms to you very quickly, and the performances by the girls were wonderful, not a beat out of place, they should be congratulated.
If anything, the show suffers from a lack of originality – we’re still getting the usual beats of Snow White but nothing is as creative as it possibly could be. “Hello boys and girls,” cries Muddles, every time he enters. “Hello Muddles!” we retort. It’s simple, it’s effective, but this scenario has been played out by many a pantomime, in much more exciting, innovative ways. The Magic Mirror scenes aren’t great either. They’re such iconic moments, you’d imagine them to be fairly inventive in their execution. Instead, the ‘mirror’ appears to be an empty frame hanging on the back wall, no extra lighting is used, and we get a stock sound effect thunderclap with a thoroughly bored sounding voiceover. It’s fine, but just not terribly interesting stuff. Whilst we’re on the subject, good heavens there are some ridiculous scene changes. They all take place in blackout, with a closed curtain, to a continuous loop of music, for about a minute at a time. This is particularly stupid when the show continues and you work out that all that’s changed is a tree has been taken off.
Clearly, if the audience I was in is anything to go by, this is a show for small children. Able to forgive the shortcomings and remaining engrossed in the story, they had a riot of a time; their interactions at times were more entertaining than what was onstage, responding to our Dame in hilarious ways that only children could get away with. Adults may have a tougher time – the show can be fairly corny in places, the ending especially, and on a production level it pales in comparison to its big budget counterparts. That being said, if you are looking for a classic Christmas Panto for the whole family to enjoy, then look no further – just don’t expect much of the ‘twist.’
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is playing Hoxton Hall until 24 December. For more information and tickets, see the Hoxton Hall website. Photo by Sharron Wallace.