Weary with the weather, the news, the list of chores? Tempted to take in a panto? This year’s offering at the Devonshire Park Theatre is as irresistible as Snow White’s shiny red apple.
You know what exactly you get with a Devonshire Park pantomime. Vivid, extrovert, a feast for eyes as well as ears. Traditional in the very best sense. One of these days, I suppose, we may be inflicted with an alternative neo-feminist panto where the fearless heroine frees a hapless prince. One of these days. But Eastbourne can bide its time, thank you. This product works perfectly, not just tradition but tradition infused with new life, new ideas, new energy.
Hannah Boyce is simply the definitive Snow White. She might have been born to play the part, pretty as Disney but without the simper. Instead, there is a radiance and brightness that brings the role to life. Hannah seizes her musical numbers with an assured, poppy voice, and she and her Prince, Tom Senior are a perfect pairing. Tall, handsome and rather genial, he would sweep any Snow White off her feet, and - as far as any panto script allows - they have genuine chemistry. Tom’s singing has awesome power and a hint of James Blunt.
From Dame Dotty’s very first appearance, Martyn Knight brings the house down. Stately as a galleon one moment and swapping audience banter the next, Martyn is in complete, assured command. His partner-in-criminal-puns Tucker, as Herbie the Huntsman, is equally on top form and they constantly bounce off each other - metaphorically, that is.
In the hierarchy of panto comics, Tucker and Martyn are matchless. They milk every moment and the audience absolutely love them for it. Tucker chases loo-rolls round the auditorium (don’t ask) with a chaotic frenzy that must shred the nerves of any follow-spot operator, and their anarchic Twelve Days of Christmas has the whole theatre in melt-down.
The evil in the Snow White story is really quite primeval. Natasha Gray shimmers with a delicious menace and merits every boo and hiss. On press night, she was coping with a slight throat, but even that was turned to advantage: a touch of gravel in the voice only makes a wicked stepmother more wicked. Fairy Goodapple - Maddie Hope Coelho in a slightly underwritten role - is a winning, engaging counterweight.
Lighting, sound and all the effects are lavish and bright, and the technical team’s work is seamless. Costumes are gorgeously extravagant and the whole theatre feels truly festive. All the ensemble dancing is vibrant, high-energy and perfectly co-ordinated by choreographer Sam Spencer-Lane, and under Rob Cousins and Sarah Travis the very accomplished band delivers an up-tempo, cheerful score.
One challenge will always beset the choice of Snow White: how to play the Dwarfs. I am risking spoilers here, but... This time, the little people are manfully (girlfully?) played by two teams of excellent young dancers from Deborah Lamb Theatre Arts, who also supplement the ensemble. Their movement is smart and impeccably co-ordinated, although the Dwarfs’ disembodied voices, through the sound system, only just work.
Of all genres, pantomime is the likeliest to slip into the hackneyed or the formulaic, but Chris Jordan’s endlessly inventive direction yet again comes up with new ideas and surprises. The inserted film sequences are fabulous in content and brilliant in execution. And as for the Man in the Mirror - no, I won’t spoil that one but you’ll love it. And of course there are the topical references. Southern Rail, Donald Trump, Brexit voters: nobody is safe from the scattergun satire of writers Jordan and Ian Marr.
Needless to say, that primeval wickedness is dashed and defeated by courage, love and purity. In a great sweep of sound - and an excellent, powerful finale choice of I’m a Believer - the drama comes full circle and, as the script declares, Love Conquers All. You will leave the theatre warmer, happier and with the chill of winter melted. An unmissable Christmas delight. By Kevin Anderson.
Have you checked out our new Christmas section yet?
It’s packed with ideas and tips to ensure you make the most out of the festive season.
There’s recipes, suggestions for presents and everything from choosing your tree to recycling your packaging and paper.