I love a good panto. They remind you of the joy and wonder of being a kid at Christmas, and help you switch off from all of the chaos for a couple of hours. I was looking forward to having a look around the recently refurbished Darlington Hippodrome too. I’m pleased to report that it looks fantastic, and I loved how the theatre’s history is told via eye-catching photographic and digital displays as well as historical artefacts. I’ll definitely be popping in for coffee in the new, ultra-modern cafe too.
The inaugural pantomime for the new theatre this year is the well-loved favourite Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, starring Blue’s Lee Ryan as Prince Lee of Langton, Darlington’s own Zoe Birkett as the wicked Queen Sadista, Middlebrough born comic Patrick Monahan as Herman the Henchman, Natasha Hoeberigs as Snow White and panto favourites Liam Mellor as Muddles, and Eric Potts as Nora Crumble.
|Lee Ryan as Prince Lee of Langton|
We’re quickly introduced to the Seven Dwarfs, all played by non-dwarves this year wearing clever costumes that allow them move about the stage easily enough (although I assume their knees must hurt a bit afterwards). Darlington is cleverly weaved into the opening number (kudos to whoever wrote the song) before we meet Prince Lee, who isn’t really challenged in the role but is perfectly suited for it (he ends up being the butt of a few funny jokes from his cast members) who launches into Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop The Feeling.” Muddles and his cake-obsessed mother Nora Crumbles quickly become audience favourites and seem like they’ve been working together for years; Liam Mellor’s childlike energy is perfect for the part and he really hits his stride quickly despite some dodgy jokes.
|Liam Mellor as Muddles and Patrick Monahan as Herman the Henchman|
As with all pantomimes, the script appealed to both children and adults on many layers, watch out for the Herman’s scene about magazine agony aunt columns (I particularly enjoyed his musing on the misery of married people) and be prepared to be involved in the show if you’re sitting in the dress circle (you might end up in your underwear). The addition of a seasoned comic to the cast in Patrick Monahan brought some class to the comedy (especially when he fluffed his lines and jokes about Hartlepool). Zoe Birkett is delightfully wicked as Queen Sadista (her costume is great) and sounds better than ever doing a Whitney Houston number. She even leaves the stage at one point and makes like Daenerys Targaryen on the back of a dragon (although I think something went wrong with the lighting as it wasn’t easy to see).
|Queen Sadista (Zoe Birkett) mid evil laugh|
Expect some panto greats from previous years to say hello via Sadista’s Magic Mirror and clever visual comedy with Mrs Crumble, Muddles and Herman during tricky and hilarious scenes with board games and tongue twisters. Natasha Hoeberigs is perfectly pleasant as Snow White, but the more comedic characters definitely steal the show (you won’t be able to unsee Eric Potts as a super heroine). It’s great that local young dancers are involved in the show (from the Joanne Banks Dance School) and they added a lot of charm to the musical numbers they were involved in. The Ensemble dancers also do a really good job of bringing high energy to the show.
|Eric Potts as the larger-than-life Nora Crumble|
Things get a bit creepy towards the end with ghosts in the woods and a Steps number before the “Twelve Days of Christmas” number which results the cast and props leaving the stage with hilarious results. I haven’t talked much about the traditional storyline because I think it’s eclipsed by the comedy moments but overall Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs is well worth seeing for some festive escapism, lots of belly laughs (especially when things don’t go to plan) and cracking performances all round.
|Natasha Hoeberigs as Snow White|
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is at the Darlington Hippodrome until Sunday 14th January. Get your tickets here