In the last two years, the London Palladium has staged spectacular pantomimes which really pushed the boat out in both casting and staging. Last year’s Dick Whittington won GB Pantomime Awards Pantomime of the Year (1500 seats or more) and an Olivier for best Entertainment and Family Show. It featured an amazing self parody by Elaine Paige, a huge ship on stage and even a double decker bus, flown out over the stalls (it was always going to be a hard act to follow for the producers). So when they prepared for this years offering, they replaced Elaine Paige with Dawn French and rehired Julian Clary, Gary Wilmot, Nigel Havers, Charlie Stemp and Paul Zerdin with his dummy Sam.
But in staging the show, they made changes with a simpler front portal, less elaborate sets and smaller special effects but also going back into Palladium history to restyle the show as an elaborate variety show paying tribute to the venue and the huge stars who have trodden the boards. The Palladium was the home of London Pantomime for forty years from the late 1940’s and its revival at the venue has reclaimed its position as the number one Pantomime in London from Hackney Empire and Wimbledon.
The show opens with a stage full of the twenty strong ensemble singing “At the Palladium” to the tune of the Lambeth Walk with Danielle Hope as Snow White and Act 2 opens with “Here at the Palace” with dancers led by the amazing Charlie Stemp as Prince Harry.The wonderful Gary Wilmot returns as the Dame, Mrs Nora Crumble and updates last year’s “tube station song” into an extraordinary list of all the stars who have played the Palladium.
As in those star led pantomimes of earlier decades, director Michael Harrison uses the basic story of Snow White to link the turns from the stars on the poster and there is no doubt the audience is there to see those stars perform. However the full story of Snow White is lost in the process and if you want to see a QDOS version of Snow White that tells the story as pantomime then you need to travel out to the Wycombe Swan.The seven dwarfs led by Prof played by Ben Goffe could easily be used more in the show and are a casualty of the reduced plot but as I always prefer to see dwarfs playing the roles rather than children , puppets or actors on their knees (as at Wycombe Swan) so it was great to see them on the Palladium stage.
Top of the Palladium bill is Julian Clary as The Man in the Mirror, dressed in amazing elaborate costumes that get gasps of delight from the audience at his every entrance and delivering his unique brand of adult comedy (mainly based on his own sexuality in his usual deadpan style). In my view he would benefit from more variety in his material.
Dawn French makes her pantomime debut as Queen Dragonella, the supposedly evil Queen who wants to hear that she is the most attractive in the land and to see Snow White dead. She is a fine comedienne and loved by the nation, so she delivers most of her lines in a knowing self deprecatory way. The best scene is in the Susie Shaw shines routine with Clary and Zerdin where she literally trips back and forth across the stage.
Paul Zerdin as Muddles shows he is a superb ventriloquist but his highlights are seeing Sam skateboarding across the stage alone or sitting on his own on a bench until Snow White joins him. The other returning star is Nigel Havers playing the understudy this year. He revels in every moment on stage, makes the most of his entrances and exits and even gets a few lines!
At the foot of the bill are Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace as Snow White’s dead parents so they can perform two excellent Strictly Come Dancing routines to delight their fans and the Palladium Pantoloons, a four man acrobatic troop doing a standard routine over a vaulting horse which must be derived from variety acts of old. They both have little to do with story development.
This is a brilliant variety show, fit for this wonderful historical theatre but it is not a traditional family Pantomime. It will however deliver on the promise of the poster and satisfying the fans in the audience but as QDOS renew and extend their bookings, I hope they will return with a better family Pantomime next year that still show case the wonderful talent.
Reviewed by Nick Humby
Photo: Paul Coltas
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