For three years now, Qdos Entertainment has taken over the Palladium at Christmas to produce a spectacular family pantomime. It has been a resounding triumph in most respects, providing London with a truly magical and thoroughly entertaining show that nods to the golden age of variety.
That’s more true than ever this year: variety is central to this Snow White, written by Alan McHugh and David McGillivray, and devised and directed by Qdos Entertainment managing director Michael Harrison.
The story is side-lined almost completely in favour of tap-dancing polar bears and Flavia and Vincent performing a tango. The Strictly Come Dancing favourites play Snow White’s royal parents, who are killed off in the recorded prologue but pop up later for a couple of spotlight dance numbers.
Charlie Stemp, who proved an ebullient Dick Whittington last year, returns to play Prince Harry of Hampstead and manages to get far more stage time than Danielle Hope’s quixotic Snow White. In fact, we hear more from Paul Zerdin’s Sam than we do from Hope.
Topping the bill this year is Dawn French as the wicked Queen Dragonella. It’s perfect casting, as French’s impish comic persona lends itself easily to the madcap world of pantomime. In fact it becomes quite the balancing act as the Vicar of Dibley star crosses comedy swords with the outrageously costumed and outspoken Julian Clary, as the Man in the Mirror. It’s an unlikely pairing, but it works exceptionally well.
There’s very little here for the kids though, bar Zerdin and the warmth provided by Gary Wilmot’s affectionate Mrs Crumble.
The production values are as spectacular as ever, particularly the costumes by designers Ron Briggs, Hugh Durrant and Mike Coltman. Their work is some of the most sumptuous and showy seen in the West End since Priscilla and the decision to place the story of Snow White in a winter wonderland setting allows for swathes of brightly coloured faux-fur and marabou trim.
Amid the glitter and thunder-flashes there are some unusual choices and tonal mis-steps. The role of Snow White is desperately underwritten and the short actors playing the Magnificent Seven barely get a look-in, save for Craig Garner, whose West End debut provides him with a poignant duet with Wilmot that will melt even the hardest of hearts. The sleigh ride effect, already a little passé, is so badly lit here that you can barely see who’s waving from the drivers seat, making for a pretty lacklustre Act I finale.
Qdos Entertainment is reported to have booked in to the venue for another three consecutive years after this. Let’s hope it can keep up the momentum. While this year’s Palladium pantomime may have morphed into the French and Clary show, in terms of variety and sheer entertainment value, it remains the hottest ticket in town.