SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS
One from the Heart at the Civic Theatre Chelmsford
A portentous start, with Richard Strauss, a star cloth and a flying mirror, but One from the Heart soon get into their panto stride in a show, directed by Kerris Peeling, that’s packed with comedy routines and high octane musical numbers.
The USP this year is The Man in the Mirror – not Michael Jackson, but Louie Westwood’s silver-suited camp dynamo, combining the role of narrator and Good Fairy – with the pyrotechnics to prove it. A very engaging performance, his That’s The Way I Like It catch phrase (courtesy of KC and the Sunshine Band) quickly getting the young audience on side. He proves a decent song and dance man, too, in his opening number, Live in Living Color from Catch Me If You Can.
He’s backed by four lithe chorus boys, students from Laine Theatre Arts and Bird College. An ensemble of eight in all, including three local dance students, who pop up to contribute some excellent steps – choreography by Chris Whittaker – behind practically every number: Someone in the Crowd from La La Land, Wake Me Up, Cut to the Feeling from Ballerina, Nothing Holding Me Back, and another triumph for the Man in the Mirror, now sporting a rainbow hat, Sweet Charity’s If My Friends Could See Me Now. Though musical theatre buffs will point out that although “food” might make more sense than “chow”, it doesn’t actually rhyme …
Some choices seem more relevant to the plot than others: Holding Out for a Hero works well in context, with a cheeky nod to Les Miz at the end.
Useful to have these extra bodies to fill the wide Civic stage, not to mention the “seven fun-sized helpers”, the synonymous dwarfs excellently done by the Green Team of local boys and girls on Press Night. “Ho Hi, we cry,” they sing, in an impudent gesture to Disney. Because there are only six actors to cover the characters; no king, no attendant for the hunky Prince Henry (Dominic Sibanda, another fine dancer).
Abigail Carter Simpson is a lively Snow White in her “classic black bob” and puff sleeves, Dickie Wood an energetic comedian as a streetwise Muddles, silly son to Andrew Fettes’ Nurse Nellie. A rather shouty dame, perhaps – the decibel level high on both sides of the footlights, but brilliant in the demanding comedy routines. The wicked Queen Grizelda is done with a touch of the Valkyries by Jenny-Ann Topham.
Simon Aylin’s script is patchy – a few desultory topical gags, and a puzzling reference to Dukes, which as Chelmsford clubbers will know, has been closed for five years. But he does include some lovely panto favourites. The man-scoffing skeletons from the ghost routine let loose in the auditorium, a super tongue-twister based on the Prince’s homeland of Asfaria, the echoing wishing well, the classic quick-fire Three Houses nonsense, and two novelty numbers, The Music Man, with gestures, before the wedding, and an energetic Twelve Days, giving the crew time to set the cottage, and finishing with another favourite, the wicked super-soaker water cannon to drench the punters.
James Doughty’s pit band gives superb support to all those punchy numbers – even Agadoo, once voted the worst song of all time …
The big finish has fresh frocks for all, five treads for the walk-down, and a smashing megamix finale for the whole company. Leaving the audience happily exhausted by another enjoyable Civic panto.