If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to get you and your family in the Christmas spirit – it’s panto – oh yes it is!
And Regal Entertainment’s festive offering would put a smile on the face of even the biggest Scrooges – a point which was proved when I took my old man to their panto at St Helen’s Theatre Royal – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
If my fella was auditioning for a part in the show, it would have to be Grumpy. But he managed quite a few smiles in the first half, and in the second half he was actually screaming with laughter – a true festive miracle! Regal Entertainments always receive the royal seal of approval from me when it comes to their pantos – they really are the fairest in the land – they provide traditional family fun with a star-studded cast and comedy capers galore. But there’s been a bit of a shake up this year, so I wondered whether the SHTR panto would live up to its previously high standards?
This year, Ben Engelen, who can normally be found up on stage playing comedy characters such as Buttons and Silly Billy, had a crack at writing the panto himself, alongside his panto sidekick, St Helen’s resident dame, Simon Foster. And the pair have conjured up a truly wicked Christmas treat!
The panto opens with Si Foster as Evil Queen Camilla who has gone over to the dark side this Christmas. Usually playing the loveable dame, Si swaps his “youhooooos” for “boohoos” as the jealous queen who desires to be the fairest in the land. The devious Queen consults her Magic Mirror, who comes in the shape of St Helens’ homegrown comedy legend, Johnny Vegas, who appears via video projection and confirms that Snow White is actually the fairest of them all, whilst dropping in lots of monkey and Benidorm jokes of course! Enter the beautiful Snow White, played by Corrie actress Lucy Jo Hudson. Now we know Lucy can throw some moves, having reached the final of ITV show Dance Dance Dance, but who knew she had a lovely voice too?
Photo credit: David Munn
Snow White bumps into the Handsome Prince played by LIPA graduate Jack Rigby, who falls head over heels for the raven-haired beauty. Under the order of the Wicked Queen, Herman the Henchman played by Richard Hazelwood, lures Snow White into the Forest to kill her – but he just can’t bring himself to do the dirty deed. Instead, he leaves her in the forest, where she meets the adorable seven dwarfs. The dwarfs provide laughs aplenty and include mother and son Harry Potter actors, Josh Bennett and Sarah Bennett, Danny Blackner who appeared in Star Wars VI – Return of The Jedi, Labyrinth and Muppet Treasure Island, Lucy Blenkiron, Jay Lusted who appeared in the BBC One Wales documentary, Born Small: The Wedding, Charlotte Lyons, and finally, Peter Sunter.
However, the evil witch of a Queen discovers that Snow White is still alive and pays her a call at the dwarfs’ cottage. Posing as an old lady, she gives her a poisoned apple. Snow White takes a bite and immediately falls into a deep slumber which can only be awakened by true love’s kiss.
Luckily, Snow White’s friends including the hilarious (if not rather flatulent) Lewis Devine as Muddles the village idiot, with his hilarious Simpsons and Andy Pandy impressions, set out to rescue her. They enter the enchanted forest to find Snow White, cue a fantastic 3-D interactive scene, which had the entire audience screaming with laughter including my Scroogey other half!
As with all fairytales, Snow White is rescued and all’s well that ends well but this feel-good festive panto will leave you grinning from ear to ear. It really is fabulous with lots of magical touches from snow and fire to the elf on the shelf in each scene – a real winner with the kids!
This panto offers traditional family fun with lots of draft jokes and silly slapstick scenes, not to mention the colourful scenery and toe-tapping tunes with a few current hits to give it a contemporary twist. A special mention must go to the talented troop of dancers who really are step perfect whether they are performing as villagers or ferocious wolves.
A brilliant first attempt for Ben Engelen and Si Foster – let’s hope it’s not the last!
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs runs until Sunday 14 January 2018. Tickets from £11. Available from the website here