Every year, Birmingham Hippodrome excels with the biggest and most lavish pantomime in the country - and this year they’ve broken the mould and excelled themselves.
Panto is a great British tradition alongside the Queen, wet Bank Holiday’s and soggy sprouts for Christmas Dinner. Its roots can be traced back to the 1700s as an alternative to the normally serious side of theatre and the murderous plots of Shakespeare where the audience could feel fully invested in the performance and genders were redefined without prejudice.
The genre has continued to be a staple diet for British audiences for generations where celebs get to let their down and be interactive with families across the land - often at their own expense. It had its heyday in the 70s and 80s and made huge stars out of the likes of Christopher Biggins, The Krankies and more recently Brian Conolly.
However, the genre is truly alive and well with pantomime giants, Qdos, turning their productions into lavish, camp spectaculars which rival any (and every) show you’ll see in the West End for the rest of the year.
One of the best (if not THE best) is the offering from the Birmingham Hippodrome. Celebrating it’s 120th year, The Hippodrome pulls out all the stops for their annual family spectacular by presenting Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This show wouldn't look out of place at Disney World and has the production values to support that.
The traditional story of the beautiful princess, the jealous ‘ugly’ Queen, the magic mirror and of course the handsome Prince is all there alongside the real panto stars, the Dame and her comedian son. Add some special effects, amazing staging and stunning lighting and you have an event that will have you rolling in the aisles and living on a permanent high for weeks to come.
This year, TV superstar Lesley Joseph (Birds of a Feather) stars as Queen Dragonella who is desperate to become the fairest of them all. Joseph's level of experience shines through with a stellar performance as the slightly flawed baddie - and flawed mostly by Muddles efforts to throw her off script! However Joseph proves why she is a staple of British entertainment who keeps the audience smiling throughout.
Dragonells is pipped to the number one spot by the beautiful Snow White, played by Faye Brooks (Shrek, Coronation Street) who in turn is adored by Prince Harry of Harborne, played slickly by Jac Yarrow (Joseph & his Technicolor Dreamcoat). Brooks and Yarrow have undeniable chemistry and are almost the personification of a panto couple. Yarrow graduated from Arts Ed only this year and went straight into the new production of Joseph at the London Palladium - a role he returns to in 2020. It's clear to see why he's hot property on the theatre scene, with clear leading man potential he's clearly the next Fiyero or Marius in waiting.
Similarly, Brookes has been performing 'professionally' for around four years, but with a stint on Corrie and lead roles in Shrek and Legally Blonde, 2020 will be a big year for her. The Seven Dwarfs are all there as well and, although they aren’t on stage much considering the title of the show includes them, they are wonderful to watch and play on their size wonderfully.
The difference with Panto compared to so many other shows is the presence of strong comedy characters and, once again, Matt Slack proves why he is - without a doubt - the finest pantomime comic we have in this country. Playing Muddles for a record breaking seventh consecutive Pantomime - and with his place already booked for next year - Slack is, quite simply, hilarious. His impressions and dad jokes were right up my panto alley and with him making every attempt to throw the rest of the cast off script, beautiful use of double entendre and some outstanding physical comedy, Slack secured his place this evening as Birmingham’s best kept secret.
Muddles has also brought his Mum, Nanny Annie Asprin, played perfectly by Andrew Ryan (Rocky Horror Show, Allo, Allo) and, if you’re looking for a dame, then Nanny is exactly what you’re looking for. A plethora of hilarious and at times, tight fitting and inappropriate costume changes, Ryan is every bit a dame and just what this production is about; a man in a dress!
Don’t worry if you think the Black Country is under represented here as it’s not. Doreen Tipton - our most famous daughter and all-round inspiration to literally some people - adds a little bit of bostin’ humour to the shenanigans as The Lady In Waiting. Very much the antidote to the love story unfolding on stage, she had me ‘loffing’ every time she made an appearance.
The cast is completed by Joe McElderry, fresh from a stint in Club Tropicana, as The Spirit of the Mirror. Having forged a career that's taken him from X Factor, to solo tours and stages around the UK in various productions, McElderry has a beautiful singing voice and a like-a-bility factor that's off the scale. What's wonderful is that he doesn't take himself too seriously - there's no 'star' attitude coming from this North Eastern lad who throws himself into the genre with passion.
This is a slick, polished, tight and wonderfully funny show - just the level of brilliance we've come to expect from the Hippodrome, which not only commands local patronage but pulls in crowds from around the country who travel for miles to see Birmingham's biggest pantomime, with a couple in the row in front of me telling the people next to them that they were from Edinburgh and travel every year to Birmingham and the Palladium to indulge themselves; that's the level of show we're talking about. With SFX provided once again by The Twins FX, Snow White see's a flying sleigh pulled by two reindeer and a full scale dragon - which literally squeezes onto the theatres 13 metre wide stage and launches into the audience.
Even the off-script moments are perfect. Joseph is a joy to watch and Slack takes everything too far and demonstrates why he’s the panto king. This is show you MUST NOT miss and, even if you go after Christmas (which is now inevitable!) you can't help but feel festive and warm inside.
Take your kids, someone else’s kids, their families and even yours. Take anyone. I cannot praise this production enough. If reviews came with more than 5 stars, this would get them all. Fact.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs runs until Sunday 2nd February 2020 at Birmingham Hippodrome. For more information, or to get your tickets, head online to birminghamhippodrome.com.