A vintage case of panto spirit

Snow White, Eloise Irving, nose a thing or two about Sniffy, one of the seven dwarfs living in their cottage in the woods

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Wolverhampton Grand

*****

IF you are looking for a traditional, magical panto for kids and grannies, mums who like a bit of romance and dads who enjoy a good laugh then look no further. Snow White ticks every box.

This is the best panto I have seen in ages. It is slick, lively, easy on the eye and above all it is genuinely funny. It is a panto that takes me back to my youth – and that is both a long time and a feat of memory – an entertaining, friendly, family show with a genuine feel-good factor – and don't forget the laughs, thanks mainly to The Grumbleweeds.

The Grumbleweeds, who have morphed into the Yorkshire double act of Graham Walker, who plays Odd Job, and Robin Colvill, as Muddles, knock up 50 years in the business next year and they use every minute of that experience to produce a masterclass in comedy ranging from the very daft to the gloriously funny. More than once the audience was helpless with laughter.

In Linda Lusardi the panto had a deliciously wicked baddie in Queen Lucretia, a rather unfortunate choice of name perhaps for those who know their Shakespeare or Britten.

The Grumbleweeds, Graham Walker as Odd Job and Robin Colvill as Muddles, provide non-stop laughs

She plays to the audience beautifully, collecting boos and catcalls with avid delight, flouncing around the stage like a devilish diva.

Snow White, Eloise Irving, looks pretty and sings beautifully and also unwittingly manages one of those wonderful theatre moments. Snow White askes the audience if she should take a bite out of the apple offered by the nice old lady who is really the wicked old queen.

“No!”  scream the audience with a few “it's poisoned”s thrown in.

Why she asks we will never know as the plot hits the buffers if she doesn't bite the apple, which obviously she does and swoons into her death like state only for some young lad in the circle, who had really got into the story, to shout out knowingly “Told you!”.

Helping out old Snow White in her hour of need is our own Niki Evans and her wonderful voice  as Fairy Loreelei. She is making Christmas fairy at the Grand a habit with her second appearance with her wand in three years.

The hero of the whole thing is Prince William of Wednesbury, played by the panto's director Sam Kane, who, if you didn't know already is married to Linda Lusardi.

His first appearance, with his guards in the town square, could have come from any light opera, real Student Prince stuff, which is a few notches up on the sophistication scale in pantoland.

He has an opportunity in this show afforded to few men – he can actually slag off his missus, in public, and even get 1,200 people to laugh at her, and not find himself singing soprano, with eyes watering, within minutes of getting home.

He brings an easy charm, and a fine voice to the role and his direction keeps up a cracking pace with a nice balance between the singing, dancing and romance – the bits where kids turn to light up wands and spinners – and the plot and comedy.

Linda Lusardi is a splendid, tongue-in-cheek wicked queen who we even get to like at the end

The panto benefits from not relying too much on special effects although the queen zooming out high over the audience on her broomstick is impressive and highly effective. I won't tell you how it is done you can work that out for yourself – but it doesn't involve wires.

The mirror, mirror on the wall is also effective as a descending video screen.

The show has plenty of oh no it isn'ts, a couple of panto standards, the ghost and the bench routine for instance, and a very funny 12 Days of Christmas with Kane, Lusardi and The Grumbleweeds, which involved toilet rolls accidentally taking out members of the audience and a happy ending. What more can you ask for?

Snow White has two teams from the Classic Academy of Dance in Willenhall who provide the children of the kingdom as well as cut furry animals in the forest and there are also two teams of dwarfs in very Disneyesque costumes who mime excellently to recorded voices.

Add a four boy, four girl ensemble of dancers and chorus, colourful sets and costumes and you have all the ingredients for an excellent panto.

When I spoke to Sam back in the summer he saw panto as one of the most important shows a theatre could put on.

From a theatre's point of view it is often the difference between a comfortable profit and a struggle for the next 12 months with many theatres taking up to 20-25 per cent of their annual income from a successful panto run.

But Sam, seen below as Prince William of Wednesbury, was looking way beyond the columns of a theatre's balance sheet to the future of theatre itself. Panto is often the first show a child sees at the theatre – get it wrong and they can be lost for ever. Show them a glimpse of the magic of theatre and they will be back for more – and this show is magic from beginning to singalong end.

Produced by Qdos Entertainment under musical direction by David Lane Snow White runs until 22-01-12.

Roger Clarke

And look out behind you . . .

***

THIS will not be the biggest pantomime in the Midlands, and it may not be the best, but it's good, honest family entertainment with a traditional feel about it.

Husband and wife team Sam Kane and Linda Lusardi (she of Page 3 fame) top the bill and look great, but those showbiz survivors, The Grumbleweeds, really dominate proceedings, and customers young and old love them.

Robin Colvill (Muddles) and his partner Graham Walker (Oddjob) deliver gags – young and old – with consummate skill but at times you wonder if they are in the limelight a little too much.

This panto hasn't gone for the spectacular effects and – call me Scrooge if you will – I didn't think it was as good as past Christmas shows at the Grand.  Before anyone calls out ‘Oh yes it is', my grandchildren agreed with that assessment.

The only catch-your-breath scene is when lovely Linda, playing the nasty Queen Lucretia, flies above stage on a broomstick.

Handsome Sam Kane, who also produces the panto,  sang well in his role as Prince William of Wednesbury, and Nikki Evans, of X Factor fame, revealed a splendid voice as the kindly Fairy Loreelei.

Eloise Irving is the attractive Princess Snow White, and two teams of children, wearing false heads, play the dwarfs with an endearing confidence.

Jon Conway is executive producer and David Lane musical director. To 22.01.12

Paul Marston

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