The Louth Playgoers' annual pantomime opens this Friday at the Riverhead Theatre and audiences are guaranteed a really good giggle as they witness Philip Marshall Junior's brand-new version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, which has both written and directed whilst at the same time being President of the Playgoers. That is quite some achievement for one of the busiest men in Louth! Talking of busy, fellow Director is Alice Murray fresh off the heels of performing in her own professional pantomime debut at Grimsby Auditorium. She too will deserve a good rest after this show closes! They make a great team along with producers Derek Smith and Stuart Spendlow who also double up as the band for the show. Being ridiculously busy seems a prerequisite to working behind the scenes on this show, but if you want something doing, get a busy person to do it.
The show is loud, silly, bright and colourful and full of the theatrical magic which you would hope for in a local pantomime. I know it will go down a storm when it opens. I was privileged to see the first full-run dress rehearsal and was impressed with so many elements of the show.
As the show opens by introducing us to the villain of the piece, the Evil Queen, I shall begin there. Fiona Beasley was marvellous. She looks stunning in her evil costume and yet there is a touch of the look of Bette Midler in Hocus Pocus possibly due to the red hair and wayward evil brows! She snarls, winces and growls with just the right amount of menace and will scare one or two younger children but seeing her get her ultimate comeuppance (Oops spoilers!) should allay any fears they may have leaving the theatre. Her performance is a delight.
Snow White is played magnificently by Felicity Warren. A seasoned panto performer, Warren is delightfully sweet and a very talented singer who children will love and root for in this production. Her stage presence is perfect for the role and she is an ideal heroine with just the right amount of grit and determination to lead other woodlands rejects and to spur them all into action against the tyrannical Queen. She is oblivious to her own charm when she meets a practically perfect prince, but falls deeply in love and the audience will be eager to see the two get together.
This year's dame is Richard Precious, returning to damehood after a short break! Precious is a performer who understands perfectly what he is meant to do and thrives on audience interaction, the more the better. But if you heckle Nanny Cakes, be prepared for some very acerbic comebacks as she takes no nonsense from anyone. I can't wait to see how audiences respond to Precious's sense of humour and remarkable ability to improvise and ad lib within the role. Get ready for mayhem.
Another who will blossom when facing an audience looking for laughs in Jesse Eedle as Johnny, Snow's best friend. A long, lean performer, Eedle looks perfect in the role with his dungarees, cut just a bit short and his cap askew on his head. He would not look out of place on CBBC. He provides the comic relief every panto needs and has to deliver many of the show's deliberately cringeworthy gags and one-liners.
It was fun to see a Magic Mirror with attitude performed by Ellie Johnson as the Fairy within. She is hilarious as the subservient mirror forced into doing the bidding of the Evil Queen. The mirror effect works really well and the decision to make her so reluctant and sarcastic was an inspired choice.
Onto royalty, we see the noble and charming Prince Sam played by Charlotte Lee who woos Snow and is making her pantomime debut like many of the principal cast. She is a towering and noble figure, upright, decent and true. Her Prince is everything you would hope for in a romantic lead and again, audiences will love her.
Snow White's father, King White is performed with real aplomb by Linden Heaton. From his opening scene performing Let Me Entertain You ("by Robbie Williams"), he is just really funny. He performs a rather rakish King who clearly has no real affection for the Queen and is devoted to his daughter intent on her achieving her happiness. Watch out for his performance.
Last, but not least among the principals is the always reliable and deeply funny, Jack Pudsey as Lanky - the crook hired to kill Snow White but who cannot bring himself to do so. Unfortunately, Pudsey broke his foot in rehearsal but the show goes on and the walking stick and the limp give him a character to play with. Like Precious, Pudsey is a panto regular who loves coming out with short Dad jokes and silly one-liners. I loved the one about the Maths teacher. Audiences will warm to his willingness to entertain with slapstick and pratfalls despite his injury. I would say "Break a Leg" but he already has... (Buddum tisch!)
There are two teams of Dwarves for this production played by the youngest members at the Riverhead Theatre and I only saw one of the two teams but I know that whichever team you see - you will be delighted by their witty, energetic and silly performances. I know that you will be impressed with their strong singing voices too.
A good sized Chorus and the wonderful dancers of Studio 2000 make up the remaining ensemble and add colour, flair and grace along with wonderful vocals coached by Musical Director Nicola Drewery. The singing is fantastic and sounds better than ever this year. The dancers are a highlight within the show and always provide exemplary skilled performances from their cutest and very youngest, to the graceful and talented seniors. I always enjoy watching them in shows at the Riverhead.
It takes an army to pull off a show like this and congratulations must go to everyone who I cannot name for fear of missing someone out, but the sound, the lighting, the scenery, the props, the costumes and the scenic painting, all add a professional dimension to the show which is greatly appreciated.
The show opens on Friday 12 January and runs until 21 January and tickets are available from the theatre box office now.
Andy Evans 11 January 2024.