Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

The Poole Lighthouse, Thursday 29 December 2005


Review by Emma Shane

© 8 January 2006


I very much enjoyed last year’s production of Beauty And The Beast, so it was with high hopes but some trepidation that I ventured down to Poole to see this year’s production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The fact that quite a number of last year’s cast would be in it was promising, but would it be as good as last year’s panto?


Curtain up, overture and into Act One, Scene 1,The Prologue. Starting with the mirror centre stage, and a voice-over narrator, the voice of the mirror, setting the scene; the narrator sounds quite like last year’s. During this narrative, the first cast member to make a brief appearance is Snow White herself, but it is not a speaking appearance, so for the purpose of the cast listing in the programme it doesn’t count. Next on Snow White’s stepmother, The Wicked Queen, played by magnificent Louise Plowright, to tell how, with The King dead, she intends to wear his crown and rob her step-daughter of her beauty by treating her as a scullery maid. Accent-wise, and script-wise her lines make one think a little of Absolutely Fabulous, and I couldn’t help wondering if that was inspired by her usual hairstyle? There is a slight surprise here in her appearance, however, in that her hair is brown and straight, about shoulder length, with a fringe descending down practically into her blue eyes. Is it a wig or a change of hair-colour? I couldn’t really tell. But her chiselled cheekbones strong voice, and commanding stage presonce, mean that she is immediately recognisable (though one should already have worked that out by knowing which character she is playing).  I think I commented that last year her costumes only just covered enough to be decent. No such problems this year. She wears a quite stunning long red court/evening dress. The top part of which seemed a little reminiscent of a 1970s style-jumpsuit (bit like in the musical Mamma Mia)! The long skirt of her dress does rather hide her legs, which is a shame, The skirt flairs slightly towards the end, a sort of 1970s crossed with 1920s style, which looks very effective given her tall, well-built, but trim figure. A complete contrast to the next entrance. A plump Fairy Flutter all in white, played by Lynette McMorrough. Though she does a reasonable job of portraying the fairy as a slightly doddery old woman, rather in the style of June Whitfield, she seems a little uneasy at saying some of the more ridiculous lines of dialogue, about having wandered into the wrong pantomime, but deciding to stay anyway, with complete conviction. Nevertheless she comes across as reasonably professional; and sings a song, during which she and The Wicked Queen have to dance a little, round each other; she demonstrates that which she is no spring-chicken, she was clearly knows how to be graceful in movement (as one would expect from an Arts Educational trained performer). The prologue continues, in the form of a song, Welcome To The Sixties (from Hairspray) with altered lyrics, mainly sung by Lynette, to introduce the rest of the principals, all of whom have bits of dialogue. Right away with this first scene some of them (namely: The Wicked Queen, Fairy Flutter, and, Snow White) have already created lasting impressions of what their characters and performances will be like.

The show proper commences with Scene 2: The Town Square. Snow White and Igor are going about their work, sweeping. Presently they stop, as the Lord Chamberlain enters, to tell them that King Ferdinand From Afar is coming to pay a visit. The Queen is in a state about it, In fact it’s given her a headache, and Nurse Slapper has gone to get the Royal Disprin. The Lord Chamberlain and Igor warn Snow White to keep out of the way. But she seems unperturbed; despite a double entendre delivered by surprisingly by Brian Cant, of all people, “The Queen is going bonkers, and you know how big her bonkers are.” Well if you’re going to put in a double entendre, then it adds to our amusement to give it to the most unlikely person to say it. Nurse Slapper, enters, with a large syringe, and, a shopping basket, and proceeds to give away the contents: A pretend egg, an Oxo cube, three packets of crisps (one of which bursts) and numerous wrapped sweets, by throwing them into the audience. (Lets hope this doesn’t get unwrapped too noisily). The dame launches into I’m The Nurse With A Little Bit Extra. A jolly song, pleasantly sung, but Matthew Rixon’s diction wasn’t too good. A trumpet heralds what they all think is the arrival of King Ferdinand, “He’s early” remarks Nurse Slapper, reprised a moment later by The Queen. In fact it turns out to be his son Prince William, played by Darren Bennett. The King is ill with flu, Nurse Slapper offers to go and administer to him, but is firmly rebuffed by politely by The Prince, and rather less politely by The Lord Chamberlain. Somehow, I can’t quite remember what it was about, we had a lovely little moment in which The Queen had to make a request, involving a little dance routine, The Prince also had something to request, and copied the dance routine, easily, and finally the Lord Chamberlain had a request to make complete with attempting to copy the routine, laughably badly; fortunately this fitted in with his character. Last year, Brian Cant seemed unsure whether he was supposed to be playing a comic old man or a middle-aged father-figure. This time he is definitely the comic old man, and as a result seems to fit much better into the more defined role. Meanwhile Louise Plowright’s Wicked Queen is sweetly gushing to Darren Bennett’s handsome Prince, and then sharply contrasts it by barking commands (in a manner a very reminiscent of Donna The Dynamo, only more controlling) as she exits about how she is going to raise taxes in a way that would make Tony Blair look popular! I thought it nice to have a very mild touch of what could be political satire worked in. The Prince and Snow White find themselves left alone on the stage. Obviously a case of love at first sight; they sing about their feelings for each other. I’m not sure what the song really was, but it seemed quite pleasant. As The Prince Darren Bennett sang it very nicely and of course danced brilliantly (even if he did not have much complex dancing to do), but was unfortunately somewhat dominated vocally by Shelley Otway’s Snow White. Unfortunate, in my humble opinion, because her voice seemed a bit strident and her performance rather too showy and in your face for my taste. Sometimes less is more. However, she is not without talent and some showmanship. One can easily believe that she would have her eyes on the Prince, he is a prince, but I wasn’t too sure what he saw in her, as yet. Still Darren Bennett is a convincing actor, so if his Prince says he loves Snow White, we’ll just accept that without wondering too much why. However, Snow White is by no means the only person with eyes on The Prince....

Scene 3 in The Royal Kitchen, finds The Prince, The Lord Chamberlain, and The Queen all demanding an audience The latter enters commandingly ordering her henchman Igor to kill Snow White, and bring her Snow White’s heart in a wooden box. He is reluctant, but has no choice; while she sounds very much like a battleaxe, straight out of G&S! - quite wonderful. Turning to the audience, she declares how clever she is “Oh yes I am”, which is of course the audiences cue to say “Oh no you’re not”. Though this went on about four times, and Louise varied her tone and style each time. The audience’s part didn’t work too well; mainly I think because Louise Plowright is such a talented, clever, commanding performer that the audience isn’t all that inclined to cross her, even when pantomime convention dictates that is it does; as a result the audience response was a bit half-hearted. She is now standing before the mirror. We think we’re in for a classic Disney pantomime scene. But here’s a nice twist. She barks “Hit it” and The Orchestra strike up something that might be more familiar to musical theatre fans as a Stepehn Sondheim number from Follies. And really, I can’t think of a more appropriate showtune to insert into a pantomime version of Snow White than this one...Who’s That Woman, otherwise known as The Mirror Number! Ordinarily, I might be a bit wary on finding such a terrific classic musical theatre number in a pantomime, it would be too easy for a splendid song to get murdered. But, right away I knew there was absolutely no danger of that happening here. With the sensational Louise Plowright to sing it it’s a real treat, and one, which I don’t think even the Sondheim purists could object to. She sings brilliantly, and makes the song very much her own, no matter who from Mary McCarty to Shezwae Powell has sung it before, not to mention those amazing chorus line-ups you get for backing singers whenever this number is performed in any major production of Follies. She proves that she has the voice and wits to do this song full justice; although, judging by her resume, she hasn’t done all that much Sondheim hitherto; she really should do more of it, because she clearly has the ability to do it so well. As a Sondheim performer she could surely rank up there with the likes of: Kathryn Evans, Louise Gold and Liz Robertson, not to mention Anna Francolini, Sally-Ann Triplett, and, Tracey Wiles. Her costume fits rather well into this number. The skirt is so long, that we can’t see her legs too well, but it does give a good idea of the kind of evening dresses the old-girls would wear when performing that number in the musical. That coupled with the fact that she is so tall, and had some decent tap-dancing abilities, means that in her performance, she also looks very much as though she could be one of the old-girls straight out of a production of Follies; except that perhaps she might still be considered a few years too young, mind you Kathryn Evans and Louise Gold (who are close to her in age) did that show three years ago, at the Royal Festival Hall. perfectly well. Of course having a first rate soloist is one thing, but The Mirror Number really needs an ensemble, and a fine effort is made to provide one. On come two suave chorus boys, actually Darren Bennett and Anthony Reed (The Prince and his Assistant) here doubling up) in exactly the right kind of costume. Both tap dance extremely well, therefore, while Louise taps a fair bit herself, they handle the bulk of the really complicated dancing, with an impressive solo each, while Louise weaves in between them indicating with her hands (and face) when it is their turn for a solo. Part-way through they are joined at the back by the Senior Chorus. Very much like in Follies where the Ghosts come on part-way through. All in all the cast, led by Louise Plowright, did the number justice.

The Mirror Number was going to be a hard act to follow, in fact while it was lovely to have Louise singing so brilliantly early in the show, instead of leaving it to the end of the act, I did wonder how they could follow on from it, not to mention how on earth they would end the first act. Fortunately they did the most sensible thing, and had a fairly irrelevant comedy moment to start Scene 4 Outside The Town. Snow White encounters Nurse Slapper who, in sports gear, is trying to get in shape to attract The Prince. On hear that The Prince is in love with Snow White the dame initially says “Oh no he doesn’t”, and here the audience give the customary response “Oh yes he does” with much more spirit. It’s easier to do that when the subject is a third character. Or perhaps it’s due in part to Matthew Rixon’s characterisation. Eventually the dame says it will settle for his assistant. In the previous scene Nurse Slapper had worn a ginger wig in two wild bunches. But this time it is a wig that twists the hair into a long point upwards; which reminded me very much of the fairy Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid in the Jason Carr & Gary Yershon musical of The Water Babies. However, it did not look as well crafted as the wig in that musical.

Scene 5, finds Igor and Snow White in the Royal Forrest, he comes at her with a knife, but can’t bring himself to do the deed, confesses all, and tells Snow White she must hide in the forest, and never come back, meanwhile he will take The Queen the heart of some animal. Mark Osmond acts this poor character very well. Although in some ways Igor is mean to be the stereotype simpleton, Mark gives the character something extra, a bit of likeability for a start; and in fact the character does not come across as so stupid as to be ridiculous. But more a poor unfortunate man, who for whatever reason can’t manage to better himself. He departs, and Snow White falls down asleep, on comes Fairy Flutter, to wave a spell try and protect her. This time Lynette McMorrow’s fairy comes across more confidently as a traditional good fairy, who knows what she is doing.

Scene 6 is back in The Royal Kitchen. Igor brings The Wicked Queen a box, into which he has put the heart of a fox. The Prince enters, to ask The Queen for Snow White’s hand in marriage. Here we get a well written piece of gory farce, in which The Queen is trying to get The Prince to transfer his affections to her, and (while caressing the box) carefully hinting at what has become of Snow White (or so she thinks), but never quite actually saying so. Its a wonderfully crafted scene, that needs some first rate acting to pull it off, luckily its in the very capable hands of Darren Bennett and Louise Plowright. Of the two Louise seems to have the more difficult job, her timing and intonation has to be spot on. Fortunately, it is not for nothing, that she won Bristol Old Vic’s Chesterton Lalande Award For Female Student Of 1987. She’s a gifted actress and a true professional who speaks with utter conviction and knows exactly how to handle a scene like this one; with all the subtleties of manner, including facial expressions, needed; sometimes she even changes accent (such as dropping into an American twang) for added effect. Some of the dialogue did tend towards the grotesque, perhaps a bit too much so, for the language was distinctly reminiscent of that Kitchen at The Other End Of Nowhere scene in Jason Carr & Gary Yershon’s musical The Waterbabies. Though, visually at least, it was not as grotesquely controversial as that, but there seemed to be a similarity nevertheless, though it could well be pure coincidence. When The Prince Departs, The Wicked Queen summons The Dame who has some new beauty treatments, and The Wicked Queen tells her to try them on someone else first, as the last gave her chafing. Deciding not to waste its efforts on the Lord Chamberlain, much to his relief, and another example of a true professional, Brian Cant, who delivers even the smallest appearance with complete believability; Nurse Slapper, assisted by Igor invite a member of the audience, in this instance an elderly man named Charlie to be the guinea-pig, as they try out various creams. I really wasn’t sure about this scene. Admittedly it made a change from the traditional ‘cake’/cookery slapstick scene. But was it fair on the audience member concerned? I only hope he was asked beforehand if he would take-part.

Scene 7 has Snow White finding The Dwarves House In The Forrest, entering and tidying it up, while singing Whistle While You Work. This was a very pantomimish performance from Shelley Otway, in a manner that appeared rather more like a comedian doing a parody of a children’s TV presenter. Therefore while not entirely convincing, as this is a pantomime it just about passes muster.

Meanwhile in Scene 8, outside the Town. Enter the Dwarves, played by members of the junior chorus, retuning from work, singing the traditional Disney song associated with this fairytale of Hi Ho Hi Ho Its Off To Work We Go.

Scene 9 back at The Dwarves house, finds They think their is a ‘monster’ in their house, but soon discover, that the ‘monster’, Snow White, of course, is friendly.

We come to the Act one finale, Scene 10 The Witches Spell. Having already had a song from The Wicked Queen, I wasn’t expecting another in this act, but was pleasantly surprised to find a scene very similar to last year’s Act 1 finale. Centre back of the stage, Louise Plowright commandingly alone in full regalia as the villainess, with two flying wires. Once again she launches into what appears to be a pop-style number. Although it is in fact another showtune, Stephen Schwartz’s Defying Gravity from the musical Wicked. I thought it not as good a song as last year’s Don’t Rain On My Parade by Jule Styne. However, with Louise Plowright to perform it, it is of course extremely well sung. She has a rather unusual flair for being able to sing pop-style songs rather well, making them fit right into a musical-theatre context, as was much in evidence during her five year stint in Mamma Mia. Movement wise, initially she seems a little stiff, perhaps a result of her flying harness, and a huge skirt. But she makes good use of her arms (all those ABBA-style arm movements in Mamma Mia evidently left their muscle memory - to borrow a line from Follies), and once the flyman raises her from the ground, she appears quite graceful with her whole body. When practically out of site, her skirt is dropped from its moorings to descend alone just before the curtain does.


Act Two also opens in a similar manner to last year, with the Dame doing a song-and-dance number with both Senior and Junior choruses, though this time in The Town Square. Although Matthew Rixon doesn’t have quite panache of Chris Hayward, I thought that the song, Sandy Wilson’s My Big Best Shoes (from the musical Valmouth), was much more suitable, for the song lent itself to being camped up and messed about with so much more. As far as looks Matthew Rixon is much more camp than Chris Hayward was, but this is a pantomime, so actually that works perfectly well. He plays the dame very much in his own way, and for that he should be applauded. At the number’s conclusion, Brian Cant’s Lord Chamberlain wanders on, with his arms full of scrolls, that The Queen is requesting some very strange things for her cookery. All will be revealed a little later, But first, what of Snow White, The Lord Chamberlain says to the Dame “You haven’t heard?” It seems Snow White has disappeared. The Dame repeats this news to The Prince when he wanders on.

Scene 2, Outside The Town, The Prince and his assistant, decide to go and find Snow White, preferably without The Dame who offers to come and help them (but must go and change a frock). They realise that all is not right, there’s only one thing to do, fight evil, and When You’re Fighting Evil its best to do it together. This is a parody of When You’re Good To Mama from Chicago. Some of the lyric changes were actually quite minor, such as to the one about scratching each other’s backs. Halfway through The Dame enters, in new costume, and joins in the song. This is exactly the sort of brilliant pastiche that fits very well into pantomime. Kander and Ebb songs, do seem to lend themselves to take-offs remarkably well (For example look at what Spitting Image & that programme’s Leading Puppeteer have managed to do with some of them: Tomorrow Belongs To Me, Me And My Baby, and, not forgetting Class).

We’re in for another brilliant piece of pastiche in Scene 3, only this time it’s classic Rodgers and Hammerstein rather than Stephen Sondheim! In The Royal Kitchen The Wicked Queen is busy cooking something in a cauldron. Igor enters with some more ingredients, and a few questions. Mark Osmond’s performance was good last year, but this year his part is much more of a character, and how deliciously Louise Plowright plays off him, though being very fair, she does give him ample opportunity to shine too. She has a gift for being able to play off other performers, and yet they still come across well. This includes a little joke about the venue, Louise gets to deliver that one, about them being a bit short staffed at The Lighthouse Cafe and needing a stew. She’s good at switching quickly and easily between jokes that are totally in character, and ones that are more about playing to an audience. She also makes excellent use of her facial expressions to convey subtly and character to her audience. Becoming tired of Igor’s questions/conversation, The Queen asks Igor to dive down into the Cauldron to retrieve something. As she says, he’ll become a part of Snow White’s end. And thereupon she launches into her third song, My Favourite Things, with cleverly altered lyrics, so that all the ‘things’ listed are rather nasty instead of nice. With Louise Plowright’s wonderful diction all could be heard crystal clearly. Some ‘things’ were pretty gruesome, such as a rabbit with it’s head pulled off, but most of them weren’t quite that gory, this is a family show. All the lyrics made a wonderful contrast to the style of the song, Louise sang it beautifully; doing full justice to the song vocally, and is more than comparable with both Mary Martin and Julie Andrews. (She’s probably better than Mary Martin diction and pronunciation-wise anyway). Meanwhile in the cauldron, Mark moves the stirer, so it almost looks as if its self-stirring, and eventually holds up the apple. Louise concludes the scene, by informing the audience that she is going to find a spell to make her look really ugly, and disguise herself to take the poison apple to Snow White. The powerful actress comes across spectacularly well in this scene, as the kind of character one really wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of. And in a funny sort of way, even though its an unpleasant character, one just can’t help admiring her.

Time for another classic bit of pantomime, “It’s behind you” in Scene 4: The Royal Forrest. The Prince, his assistant and The Dame, sit on a log to sing Whenever I Feel Afraid I Whistle A Happy Tune, and are plagued by a ghost, in the manner of last year’s spiders. Only much better. Firstly the song suited the situation so perfectly, and secondly the trio this year are all youthful enough to do it full out without getting tired. This time First The Prince runs off, then his assistant, and finally a twist, The Dame looks at the ghost, but it is the ghost that screams and runs off.

Scene 5: Outside the Town, finds The Dwarves reprising the classic Hi Ho High Ho It’s Off To Work We Go, and building up plot tension wondering if their new friend will be alright alone.

Scene 6: Snow White is along in the Dwarves House. There is a knock at the door, and, well they have to get a moral in somehow. Snow White says (still sounding a little like a comedian doing a parody) “The Dwarves told me never to open the door to anyone. But just once can’t hurt, can it?” She opens the door to a hunchback figure in a black cape and hood, holding a basket of apples, and speaking with a very classy sweet English accent (it made me think somewhat of the silky-voiced diva in Two’s A Crowd, Perhaps that’s just a coincidence). The cloak is a good disguise, one almost wouldn’t recognise magnificent tall Louise Plowright, except for it being pretty obvious plot-wise (especially given her comments in Scene 3), and the fact that every now and then, in asides, she drops into her usual northern accent, entirely deliberately to make sure the audience know. It’s actually quite impressive a performer to be able to change accent convincingly so quickly. Some of them really can’t do it as smartly and quickly as that. Though well hidden by her cloak, for a brief moment one of her slim ankles did make an appearance; and her hunchback bore a marked similarity to her own Sorceress-in-disguise at the beginning of last year’s panto, not to mention a passing similarity to a certain Sweeney Todd’s Beggar-Woman. She urges Snow White to take “just one bite” (her voice momentarily reminding us of last year, when her sorceress had the line “my poisonous wine takes just one drop....”. She speaks cruel ironic lines with with wonderful subtly. Once Snow White has taken a bite, there on stage Louise straightens up to her full 5ft10’ (even taller with her heels on), and throws back the hood of her cloak, revealing herself, what an amazing contrast! She sweeps out with a well sung welcome reprise of My Favourite Things, and, majestic swish of the cloak, just as the Dwarves enter to find Snow White dead.

Scene 7 is back in The Royal Kitchen, why do these pantomimes seem to spend so much of their time in Royal Kitchens? Louise’s Wicked Queen, having ditched the cloak is clearly up to something more. There is a welcome appearance from Darren, as The Prince, to again ask for Snow White’s hand in marriage. This time The Wicked Queen almost gives it to him straight, Snow White is dead. And she promptly offers herself to him. Surprisingly (plot wise)  he seems quite drawn to her; how well Darren acts that out with his body language, without having to say a word. We soon learn why, The Queen has concocted a spell to make herself irresistibly attractive to him. As soon as The Prince hears this his body takes on a very peculiar contortion, making him look like a cross-eyed frog. “Kissy Kissy” says The Wicked Queen, in a manner that put me in mind of Miss Piggy! - Is that what comes from two years digging the dancing queen with Miss Piggy’s rival Annie Sue Pig (oh alright with Annie Sue’s muppeteer to be precise)? At this critical moment, if The Prince kisses The Wicked Queen he will be under her spell forever, Fairy Flutter enters, declares that her magic is stronger than The Wicked Queen’s “And we’ve had enough of your spells and wickedness. I’m going to have to do something with you...” She contemplates turning her “into a musician”, but The Wicked Queen protests with an insult which of all the cast possibly only Louise Plowright could get away with delivering on stage, about being put in a pit, at which bang on cue, led by Simon Gray, The Orchestra of: Andrew Franks, Mike Potts, Huw Jones, Graeme Lawrence, and, Steve Hayes poke their heads up out of the orchestra pit to say “Thanks a lot”. Fairy Flutter decides its not a good idea, and concludes that she’ll just have to “turn you into Julie Andrews” (could that have been inspired by Lynette having been to the same stage school as Julie Andrews?), she waves her wand and Louise exits warbling in her beautiful sweet, yet powerful voice, The Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of Music, ending with a gorgeously impressive high note. A rather more convincing exit for Louise Plowright’s villainess than last year’s “going off in a huff”. The fairy, sends The Prince to Snow White, telling him to kiss her.

With Scene 8, in The Royal Forrest, surrounded by Dwarves that is exactly what he does. Entering with his graceful dancers movements. This scene is rather comical, because it seems to take several attempts. But at last having roused her they dance together a little, and its noticeable that he is a rather better dancer than her. But perhaps he’s getting used to partnering people who aren’t as good as he undoubtedly is. The whole scene was underscored with a chorus humming to what I think was a very strange arrangement of Lionel Bart’s Food Glorious Food.

Brian Cant and the tricorn hat he is wearing comes into his own in Scene 9, Outside The Palace With full command of the stage, knowing exactly what he is doing, he reads out the ‘Guest List’- which includes The Trumpton Fire Brigrade (cue for some of the audience to join in there), followed by “Hello’s”, and “Birthdays”, and finally the Singalong. A big improvement on last year the song this time is My Hat It Has Three Corners. Firstly I should think many more of us would be familiar with the song anyway - I remember this song from programmes like Play School! And secondly even if you didn’t know it, it would be very easy to pick it up, especially with such an experienced children’s TV presenter lining the song. 

The grand finale, in stereotype fashion in The Royal Ballroom, finds everyone in new costumes to take their bows, and sung-through ending by the company.


Well I thought last year’s production of Beauty And The Beast was pretty good; but this was so much better overall, and the performances of Brian Cant and Louise Plowright especially.

Some performers were not quite up to the standard of their last year’s counterparts, or at least, I felt that Shelley Otway wasn’t a patch on Cassidy Jansen, and her Snow White seemed somewhat lacking in likeability (she could perhaps learn a lesson or two about performance technique from paying attention to Brian Cant and Louise Plowright). However, as it was a pantomime, Ms Otway’s rather showy strident style, was not too out of place. I’m sure she would be fine a role appropriate to her style. Matthew Rixon was a very camp, but entirely satisfactory dame, although I did think his wigs went perhaps a bit OTT, without having much stylishness about them. But again, this is a pantomime, so the designers just about got away with it. When it came to singing, he stuck to what he could do well, and did things his way, and was therefore gave a reasonable performance. Lynette McMorrough’s Fairy Flutter seemed to take a while to find her niche within the show, and though initially she didn’t come across too well character wise, she sang nicely and her performance improved steadily throughout the show. Meanwhile both choruses were at least as good as last year, performing well. The Senior Chorus consisted of four performers out of: Elanor Awford, Chloe Coulter, Genna Delahunty, Beatrice Gunner, Natalie Khoshnevis, Charlotte Kingston, Kate Hurley, Rebecca McAteer, and, Charlotte McLeod. While the junior chorus consisted as of seven performers out of: Hannah Adeney, Amy Barnard, Eloise Cornes, Phoebe Cornes, Rachel Dalton, Jessica Greenham, Hannah Osbourne, Amy Owen, Jessica Owen, Felice Southwell, Olivia Taylor, Abbie Thompson, Kari Thompson, Megan Travers, and, Amy Wilson. A good number of performances were definitely better than last year, partly due to being better written giving the actors more scope. One fine example of this is Mark Osmond’s part. Before he had merely played a simpleton. This time his Igor, though fulfilling the role of stereotype simpleton, comes across much more as a living breathing character, with feelings, who simply lacks the ability to get out of the unfortunate station in life in which he has found himself. Meanwhile, in the form of The Prince and his assistant, Darren Bennett and Anthony Reed, made a splendid double-act; which made me think, I’d like to see them tackle the roles of The Dromios in The Boys From Syracuse. They both acted and danced what little dancing there was extremely well, particularly in The Mirror Number. However if this pantomime had one real flaw, it is that Darren Bennett didn’t have enough opportunities to demonstrate his considerable dancing abilities. It was nice to see him promoted to an ostensibly more important role (the hero), and getting to sing (for he sings very nicely) but not at the expense of having less opportunity to display his talents. I think his role last year gave him more scope. However, he makes the best of what he’s given. He also manages to be a very likeable prince, though I couldn’t really fathom what this character saw in Shelley Otway’s Snow White, we want him to get her, because he wants to. So full marks to him for being convincing and likeable, even if his part didn’t quite do him justice. By contrast, Brian Cant was much better suited to his role this year. He is not a young man, and last year, despite his obvious professionalism, seemed to show distinct signs of fatigue. This time he had less to do, spending much of the action wandering on at odd intervals with various little bits and pieces. The result was that when he came to do the penultimate scene, he still seemed quite fresh, and well able command the stage alone, keeping the whole audience, especially the children, entertained, just as he has done for so much of his career. It was a lovely performance, a real reminder to any of us who grew up watching Play School et al, just what a great entertainer of an actor he is. But good though most of the cast are, if there is just one absolute star turn, then it is that of the piece’s villainess, Louise Plowright as The Wicked Queen. A true professional, this supertrouper was well worth seeing last year, but this year she’s even better. On tip top sparkling form, as one should expect from a West End actress of her calibre. For a start her role this year is rather more suited to her incredible talent, with the result that she gets just that bit more into it. Last year, she seemed to spend a lot of key scenes on the stage alone or with only the junior chorus for company. This time she is much more likely to have one or other of the principals to play off, even if it’s only Mark Osmond’s Igor. One of Louise’s great gifts is her ability to play off other actors strengths, while somehow never in any way diminishing their performance. She uses this trick best with Mark Osmond and Darren Bennett (both appeared with her in last year’s panto). Though always a commanding figure, her characterisation shows quite an impressive range of character-types within that, I might be reading too much into it, but I could see similarities with her Wicked Queen to: Both Patsy and Edina in Ab Fab, The Muppets’ Miss Piggy, A G&S Battle-ax or two, and not forgetting Mamma Mia’s Donna The Dynanmo, amongst many other bits of characters. Another of her sensational talents is her gloriously rich powerful voice. Many of the grown-ups in the audience were very impressed by that. This time she we had three, yes three numbers from her, one of which had a brief reprise, and there was even a smattering of a fourth, what a delicious treat. First there was The Mirror Number, “What a blast!” (as Stella would say in Follies). It really was a star turn. If the song was on the low side for her, well you’d never think so from her glittering performance. Then Defying Gravity, which was very well performed, even though I don’t think the song actually did her talents justice. And if that wasn’t enough in Act 2 there is her wonderfully wicked rendition of My Favourite Things, true a pantomime pastiche triumph! Surely one of the best singers of our time to grace the Musical Theatre stage, Louise Plowright has a wonderfully fruity powerful voice, which carries; though she can sing sweetly when required, and has excellent diction. Her vocal powers also include a wonderfully wicked laugh. In addition its noticeable she make good use of facial expressions both to be convincing and convey a certain subtlety. She is a magnificently brilliant leading actress. Besides having a commanding stage presonce, she has an unusual skill for being able to adapt her performance depending upon the strengths of whichever co-star she is appearing with, playing off them in such a way as to benefit the show as whole, but, almost as a by-product benefiting her own performance, making it even more convincing. Incredible as it may seem, she is so terrific a singer-actress that one cannot help but admire her, and feel some sympathy towards the character she is portraying, even though she is playing the villain! There are few performers with the fire of brilliance to play a villainess so admirably, that one might almost be on her side; one can’t help liking her performance, even though it’s a very unliked character in the plot. It is possibly that the legendary Doyly Carte contralto Rosina Brandram may have achieved a similar kind of effect as Katisha in The Mikado. On more certain ground, fellow Musical-Theatre performer Louise Gold did accomplish this kind of thing as Baroness Bomeburst in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, in the West End. Elsewhere in the theatrical arts: Nao Sakuma was similarly admirable as the Black Queen in the ballet Checkmate; also in the ballet world, Maya Plisetskaya attained this sort of effect in a number of roles, such as Odile in Swan Lake and Zarema in The Fountain Of Bakhchiserai. And not forgetting the opera world where a sororially similar effect was reached by the notable Diva who sang the menacing mezzo role of The Princess Of Bouillon in Adriana Lecouvreur at Holland Park in the summer of 2002. One might also note the plot similarities with both The Fountain Of Bakhchiserai, and particularly Adriana Lecouvreur with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, all involve heroines being murdered by their jealous love rivals, and the latter also involves the villainess giving the unwitting heroine a poisoned gift.

All in all, well worth travelling to Poole, even on the coldest day of 2005, for. Overall the show was a decided improvement on last year (and that was good). Darren Bennett, though better billed, seemed a little underused, but did make a good double-act with Anthony Reed. Meanwhile Brian Cant appeared much more at ease in his role, thus giving his talents more room to flourish. And as for Louise Plowright, well, while most of the cast were very good, it was worth going to see this pantomime for her performance alone. Last year she was very good and professional. But this year Gee, Wow, What a supertrouper! This time she really does give a performance that was right up to the high standard with which she led the West End’s Mamma Mia cast for four years. Gosh, does she deserve to be a Leading Lady of the musical theatre, with the fire of her talent, you bet she does. When she’s got her name in lights, or at least, billed above the title on the posters, she’s a real Winner who Takes It All, and that includes playing a villianess so magnificently, you can’t help but admire her glittering performance; heading this pantomime’s generally excellent cast.



| Return To Reviews  | Beauty And The Beast |