2023 is almost behind us, which means it’s panto season once again. (Insert obligatory “oh yes it is”.) Hot on the sparkly heels of their summer production of Cinderella, Greenwich Theatre bring another classic fairy tale to their stage this Christmas, with their Snow Queen inspired take on Snow White. Like last year, the production is written by Greenwich panto veteran, Anthony Spargo, who also assumes his traditional role as the villain of the piece.
In Spargo’s Snow White, we are transported to an ice palace ruled by the evil Queen Narcissus. The Queen spends her days checking in with her Magic Mirror (Deearna McClean) to make sure she remains the fairest in the land. Until now, the response has been reassuring, but today is her stepdaughter, Snow White’s (Katie Tonkinson) 18th birthday and the mirror has some bad news. Meanwhile, a prince (Tom Bales) with a prophecy is en route to the palace where he expects to meet his one true love. But, in an entirely unsurprising turn of events, it’s not the Queen he has eyes for.
So far, so traditional Snow White at this point, with Herman the Huntsman (Martin Johnston) disobeying the Queen’s orders to kill Snow White and dropping her deep in the forest, where she stumbles upon a house with seven occupants. While the seven dwarfs have become controversial characters these days, the issue is somewhat resolved by having them take puppet form and given a backstory (in which “Dwarfs” turns out to be a rather interesting acronym). Gone too is any suggestion that Snow White is responsible for the cooking and cleaning in this household – as the dwarfs point out, this isn’t the 1930s. It is, however, still a fairy story in which the Queen comes after Snow White with a poisoned apple. Can Prince Charming of Charmington break the spell? And even if he can, is there any way of stopping the Queen’s evil plan for world domination?
It’s a fun production that takes a classic tale and chucks in some surprises along the way, offering all the sorts of things that you would expect from a traditional panto. It’s a good family show, with music thrown in to please both the children and adults of the audience. There is also humour in there for all ages, ranging from pop culture and politics references to fart noises (courtesy of Dwarf Windy). There is some innuendo but it’s fairly tame by the standards of many modern pantos – the munchkins (10 and 11) understood most of the adult jokes. Spargo’s script relies most heavily on quick fire gags, which are fired out like a constant stream of Christmas cracker jokes. This makes for a fast-paced and lively production with laughs galore.
In Queen Narcissus we get a Dame and a baddie for the price of one, and Spargo wears both hats with relish. (He also wears a rather splendid collection of physical headwear, including a very tasty looking ice cream hat.) Emily Bestow’s design is fun and colourful, clearly encapsulating the ice palace theme within a clever revolving set. We especially liked the 80s ski suits worn by the ensemble! On which note, it’s great to see Greenwich giving opportunities to local emerging performers, with both Bekah Tompson-Phiri and Jessica Murphy currently training at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.
Like any good panto, you can expect some audience participation – there’s not too much of it in the first act, aside from the traditional ribbing of a bloke in the front row and a classic call and response routine with Muddles the jester (an energetic and highly entertaining, Louise Cielecki). Things pick up in the second act, however, with the audience heavily involved in the hilarious downfall of Queen Narcissus. Top tip – sit as close to the front as possible if you really want to get involved in the action!
Overall, Snow White may not be the flashiest, edgiest or rudest panto around but if you’re after a classic panto experience with a cracking script and a fantastic cast, Greenwich panto may well be the fairest of them all.
Snow White plays at Greenwich Theatre from Friday 24 November 2023 to Sunday 7 January 2024. We received complimentary tickets to the press performance on 28 November.