Some misguided killjoys actually don’t enjoy pantomime, finding it too sickly-sweet or over the top. The rest of us bask in the familiarity of the stories, the colour, the traditional audience responses and the exaggerated characters. But a company still has to deliver the goods – as Swanage Drama Company do with this excellent production.
The script has been adapted by Brian Travers from an original by himself and the late, much-missed Pat Jones. Corny jokes are de rigueur, for example “Are you a complete fool?” “No, I’ve got bits missing.” Brian Travers himself seems to have been playing the pantomime dame in Swanage since it was a small fishing village, so it is no surprise that he produces another tour de force as Dame Dotty Doughnut – everything a dame should be. His performance offstage is impressive, too, given the number of quick changes into ever more fantastical costumes.
An actress can’t do very much with the rather insipid character of Snow White, but Holly Gate manages to make her a sweet and thoroughly likeable character. As Prince Laughalot, Hannah Chelton conveys a modern man, sensitive and in touch with his feelings, who manages not to slap his thigh at all until after the interval.
Covid references are everywhere (“Have you sanitised that axe?” as Snow White is in danger of being decapitated), so the wicked queen is called Covidia and is played with authority and excellent timing by Becky Stares. Like all the best villains, she establishes a love-hate rapport with the audience. She has a good singing voice, too; in fact there is not a weak link, musically, among the principals. They are miked up, which is as well since the backing tapes are played at high volume, unfortunately drowning out the unmiked chorus numbers.
The chorus look good and move well, though, and Swanage has an apparently inexhaustible supply of cute children to provide its pantomimes with the essential “aah!” factor. The seven dwarfs are played by adults who in their brief appearances manage to give each of them a character of his (or her) own.
On the Covid theme, Laughalot is the Prince of Lockdownia, while the two woodcutters charged with doing away with Snow White, but otherwise providing much of the comic relief, are called Lateral and Flow. Ro Smith and Claire Leyman are talented clowns and add much to the gaiety of the evening. Unusually, the mirror is also a principal role, given a chance to get away from the corny rhyming couplets and to perform a solo stand-up set and song. Jeanne Lejeune grabs the chance well.
One of the joys of pantomime is that technical hitches can be turned to advantage. At one point, the queen was playing a scene in front of the tabs when they were opened too early, revealing Snow White in the dwarfs’ cottage, before being hurriedly closed again. Unfortunately, the queen’s next line was “Where can Snow White be?” She enjoyed the answering roar of “She’s behind you!” as much as the audience did.
David Wellstead-Arnold, new to Swanage Drama Company, directs with a sure hand. Scenery, like everything else in pantomime, should be slightly over the top and the sets for both the queen’s castle and the dwarfs’ cottage are exactly right. The same could be said for the whole production. It is being performed again on 21 January at 7.30pm and 22 January at 2.00pm and 7.30pm. If you’re in pantomime mood, you’ll find the trip to the far end of Purbeck well worthwhile.