Written By: Mark Armstrong
Date: March 25 2016
Location: Epstein Theatre, Liverpool, England
It’s Easter time, which can only mean one thing: it’s panto season!
Well, okay, that’s usually around Christmas time, but over the last few years, Easter has become an additional point of annual pantomime, led on a local level by the Epstein Theatre and their latest production (well, as created by LHK Productions), Snow White.
Now, I’ve attended several Epstein pantos so I kind of know what to expect in regards to the general structure and the overall story, although this one had the benefit of some surprise characters and several classic sing-a-long tunes to be incorporated into the show. And, of course, anyone who has attended previous pantos will expect a child-friendly story of good vs. evil, almost always giving the audience the desired happy ending (imagine the tears in the theatre if it had a sad conclusion).
Snow White follows the story of, erm, Snow White (played by Georgia Austin), who having been mistreated by her evil stepmother the Wicked Witch (played by Debi Jones) is unexpectedly informed about the incoming arrival of Prince Charming (played by James Hill), who is planning to marry “the fairest lady of them all”. Of course, the haggard old witch knows that Snow White has her beat in this department, so she orders her henchman (Tom Burroughs) to take Snow into the forest and have her killed. But he can’t bring himself to do the dirty deed, and so Snow is instead told to run for her life, in the hope that she will find safety and somehow be connected with the Prince in the future.
Cue music numbers, both those relevant to the story and some pop tunes interweaved into a few bonus dance scenes (which feature a cast of more than a dozen young dance performers), the casting of director Michael Chapman in his regular role as a drag artist with a risqué sense of humour (his character here is Dame Debbie, or Double D – yes, that’s a pun), the starring of Muddles (Lewis Pryor) as Debbie’s dim-witted yet likeable son, the use of a fairy (Olivia Horton) to introduce parts and key scenes, and some cameos by Ricky Tomlinson on The Magic Mirror (incidentally, Ricky was sat a few rows in front of me, so at certain points I was watching Ricky watching Ricky, which was a bit surreal), and a whole host of jokes which varied from being kid-friendly to some adult-themed double entendres that would have flown over the heads of the younger ones. Oh, and there were seven dwarves too.
Unfortunately, though, the viewing experience of this particular pantomime was not on the level of previous pantos, and that was due to the poor audio quality. I was sat in the upper deck for this show, and for much of the show I could barely hear what the characters were saying, from the plot-moving announcements to the frequent one-liners. Things did improve in the second half but only slightly, which obviously meant that the story couldn’t be followed as easily (although the plot is a relatively simple one), and more importantly many jokes couldn’t be heard, including Ricky’s contributions on the Magic Mirror. For that reason, one could not enjoy the show in the same way that I had with other pantos, at least not from my seating point.
The performances were good, though. Dame Debbie provided plenty of laughs as usual, and Muddles had some clever jokes as well. Georgia Austin did a fine job playing the damsel in distress that is Snow White and her singing was pretty good, making her the stand-out performer of the night. As stated, Ricky was quite funny when you could hear him (he seemed to be cast as Jim Royle as opposed to Ricky Tomlinson, not that that is a bad thing), whilst James Hill initially seemed nervous but eventually settled into the Prince Charming character. And Burroughs played the Henchman well, at times having some funny lines of his own. There was also the regular interlude whereby Chapman, in character, invited young children on stage to win some prizes, which due to the unexpected nature of the kids is usually a show highlight, as it was here.
There were some other slightly dodgy aspects of the production (some curtain movements and lighting changes happened in such a way that you knew they weren’t meant to happen, one or two characters muddled up their lines or dropped their props, and the dwarves were oversized which, while making the dwarf costumes look lifelike, actually made them bigger than the main characters). On the bright side, speaking of costumes, the attires were very good, especially for the closing wedding scene and, of course, Snow White’s costume throughout most of the show. The sets were kept simple and, to that end, were true to the story.
Overall, then, the kids should enjoy the story of Snow White as told by this production, and the adults should have a good time as well due to Debbie’s more risky jokes. My only advice to theatregoers is that they try to sit in the lower deck so that they can take in more of the show than I did, at least from an audio standpoint. Had the sound not been such a major issue, the rating below would probably be a lot higher.
Overall Rating: 7/10 – Respectable