JANUARY hasn’t exactly blessed us with much to be happy about so far with post-Christmas blues lingering and temperatures permanently hovering around zero, but if there’s one thing that can turn the staunchest of frowns upside down, it’s a panto. So all hail Spittal Variety Group for bringing some much needed cheer to ensure people felt all warm and toasty for at least a few hours last week.
With many roles to fill – not least the seven dwarfs – ‘Snow White’ can’t be the easiest pantomime to put together, but as they do every year, SVG gave the audience what they wanted: there was singing, dancing, eye-catching costumes, a sing-song and a comedy chase. If someone was sitting in the audience with a panto checklist, you can bet that every box was ticked.
‘Snow White’ also introduced us to a new star in the local theatre sky – Amy Cowan, who stepped into leading lady shoes for the first time and hit the ground running.
Whether it was down to her bright, bubbly on-stage demeanour, her girl-next-door quality, her impressive singing voice or a concoction of all three, Amy lit up the stage. ‘When You Believe’, ‘Whistle While You Work’ and solo number ‘Some Day My Prince Will Come’ showed exactly why producer John Mabon gave her top billing.
Another young lady making the step up to a principal role was Hannah Bass who played Prince Ferdinand of Farawaysia, the prince Snow White swooned over. Like Amy, Hannah performed her lines with finesse and the two collaborated to great effect on ‘With A Smile And A Song’.
Opening night really was ladies night, and for me the stand-out performer along with Amy was Diane Renner as Queen Avarice. Last year she was swashbuckling hero Dick Whittington but gone were the boots and bravado and in their place a glitzy yet sinister looking cape and a cracking cackle.
As the lady who wanted Snow White dead, Diane needed to be ruthlessly evil and she spat out every line with the cutting venom required. Her diction was spot on and the way she moved around the stage was perfect for the role. And perhaps most importantly, the boos every self-respecting panto villain craves came thick and fast from the Cubs and Scouts in the audience.
If Diane was the resident devil, then Susan Potts’ Fairy Good Fortune was definitely the angel. Suitably decked out in white, she was the woman who came to Snow White’s rescue on more than one occasion and helped string the plot together with some effective rhyming.
Another lady who’d sure be raging should she not get a mention is Edna Bucket. Every pantomime needs a dame, and stepping into the breach and breeches for the Variety Group for the past three decades, John Dougall knows just how to work a crowd.
He kept the youngsters happy with free sweets and the grown-ups chuckling along with inoffensive gags and a smattering of local references.
Another familiar face who has made the comic role his own is Jonathan Scott. He’s played Wishy Washy in ‘Aladdin’, Buttons in ‘Cinderella’ and his latest challenge was to send the laugh-o-meter into overdrive as court jester Chuckles. With gags that spanned the generations, a spring in his step and endless enthusiasm, he did exactly that.
‘Snow White’ had the fun factor and Keith Fraser and Fiona Dunn added fuel to the fire as Justice Quill and Scribbles. They served up technology-inspired gags aplenty which name-dropped the likes of Blackberry, iPads and even ‘A Dell’ – cue Fiona singing a few lines of ‘Skyfall’.
There’s a number of crucial characters who I’ve yet to mention but don’t be under any illusion that their performances were forgettable. Step forward the dwarfs: Brainy, Smiley, Dozy, Grumbly, Blushful, Snoozy and Sniffle, better known to their mums and dads as Jack Patterson, Katie Young, Ross Mair, Emma Cairns, Hollie Dalrymple, Molly Tait and Georgia Murray.
All seven brimmed with confidence and enthusiasm which made numbers like ‘Hi-Ho-Hi-Ho’ and ‘Yodelay’ real highlights. What was so impressive about the talented youngsters was that they all embodied the characteristics of their designated dwarf.
Mention too for Ian Little and Alison Fergie, who as Slurp and the Spirit of the Magic Mirror bore the brunt of Avarice’s wicked ways. Alison also lent her vocal talents to a re-worked version of Michael Jackson’s ‘Man In The Mirror’.
The pantomime’s song choices alone kept audiences on their toes. The tempo was ever-changing, with ballads such as ‘Time To Say Goodbye’ fitting in perfectly alongside more upbeat chorus numbers ‘Get The Party Started’ and ‘Celebration’.
The supporting adult and junior choruses, production team and band all contributed to the success of ‘Snow White’. If the show was an apple it would most certainly be a juicy one.