Snow White? Sheer delight at the Royal Hippodrome Theatre this week, where the new fashion of an Easter pantomime provides a happy mix of fun, colour and music.
The audience, too, are, the same happy mix who turn out at Christmas. Mums and Grandmas, Dads and Grandads, and of course a gaggle of nippers from age three upwards. And they are richly entertained. A cast of seven professionals work their socks off, supported by vivacious dancers and, of course, Seven Small Persons.
The Hippodrome these days is a joy to visit. The Grand Old Lady used to wear a kind of faded elegance, but it’s faded no longer. A bright, redesigned foyer area welcomes you in, and the auditorium feels fresh and cared for. This has been a project and a half for its purposeful directors Debbie and Alex Adams, and Eastbourne owes them a lot.
Compared with Christmas pantos, this Snow White may be ever so slightly scaled down, but you hardly notice.
Whether by accident or design, the characters have a range of accents to make a dialect coach swoon. Rachel Cantrill is an endearing Brummie Good Fairy, Muddles is Cockney, and nimble Man in the Mirror Jack Everson is an Aussie. Oh, and the Dame is a Scouser. A glorious mix. At least the royal couple are immaculately RP. Audience members who recall Acorn Antiques, by the way, must look out for Rachel’s fairy-in-disguise: a wonderful Julie Walters pastiche!
Wednesday’s first night had a couple of continuity issues – and at two and a half hours it could fruitfully be trimmed a bit – but the energy and buoyancy never flagged. EastEnders actress Carli Norris shimmers with evil as the Wicked Queen, while Jordan Langford’s Prince Rupert and Madelaine Jennings as Snow White are respectively dashing and sparkling. Their vocals are vibrant and their two duets have a quite balletic quality.
As Dame Nellie Anthony Stuart-Hicks – who also takes directing credits – works the audience tirelessly with the usual posturing and with absolutely priceless ad libs. Alongside him, Nick Nolan is an engaging and multi-talented Muddles: along with the wise-cracking and slapstick, you get ventriloquism with a baby elephant, magic tricks and even a bit of origami. He’s earning about three salaries there. (Nick, just show that line to the company manager...)
The dialogue wanders off script now and again, but usually finds its way back. Short-run pantos are probably more demanding than audiences realise, and I’d bet that this one is the fruit of about four sixteen-hour days of rehearsing! Living the dream...
With beautifully painted backcloths to set the scene, and lots of bright primary colours, the action never looks cramped. The young ensemble dancers look eager and move with a flourish. And the Seven Dwarfs are wonderful – just juveniles, yes, but each with his or her own lines and character. Inspired direction.
A preposterous Tina Turner turn from Nellie, a gripping poisoned-apple scene, and a radiant happy ending. The light-sabres are waving and it’s Christmas all over again, at least until we emerge into a cool damp April night. Maybe the endlessly resourceful Adamses could conjure up a lorryload of fake snow and create December in Seaside Road.
Snow White? Sheer delight. By Kevin Anderson.
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