Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has so much wrong with it that it is difficult to know where to begin: the set design is cheap and tatty, the choreography is pitiful; Rebecca Wheatley as “Nurse” looks bored and Fogwell Flax as the jester named Muddles is an embarrassment to watch. With all these problems, you would imagine I would report that this pantomime is one disastrous flop, but you would be wrong. This panto has a secret weapon, one that seems capable of rescuing any show, no matter how calamitous. That weapon is none other than the hilarious Lily Savage.
Lily Savage (or Paul O’Grady, to give the name of the man behind the frock) is an act in and of himself. I can remember the days when Lily Savage was the regular drag act at the Vauxhall Tavern pub in south London, and it is here that she learnt to work an audience with her one-line gags, put-down remarks and outrageous comments. It was a brave man indeed who would risk a tongue lashing from Lily’s savage mouth. The name does indeed describe the act.
It is this ability to connect with her audience, no matter the age, that makes Lily Savage immanently suitable for Pantomime, and as the Wicked Queen in Snow White she wastes no time in working her audience. The first time we see the Wicked Queen she is asleep in a four-poster bed that is shrouded by curtains. Her courtiers’ fear to wake her since they know she is, as usual, suffering from a hangover having attended a party the night before. As they draw back the curtains, the music from the movie “Jaws” slowly begins to play, and the Wicked Queen awakes, crying out “It burns. It burns! What is it?” she demands to know, “Daylight” comes the reply.
The children are the first ‘victims’ of Lily’s humour, the Wicked Queen sniffs the air before screwing up her nose and enquiring “What’s that stink?” before looking down her nose at the children and saying “It’s the smell of little children, like old poo and snot rolled up in a sock.” The children of course love it, and boo and hiss outraged by her comments. In response to the hissing, she responds, “Is that the sound of gas escaping, you filthy boys and girls. Keep your bad breath to yourselves”, Lily cries, only to be greeted by even louder boos. Of course, the parents do not escape unscathed, when the Wicked Queen seeks a potion with which to disguise herself as an ugly old hag, she looks at the audience and enquirers “What do you women use, that appears to work? Look at you! First time I’ve performed in front of dogs.” Once again, the children come to their mothers defence with boos, “Oh please, I’m only getting into my stride,” the Wicked Queen rasps.
The show uses seven actual dwarfs that the children instantly fall in love with, especially little Sleepy. Dianne Pilkington is pleasingly beautiful as the saccharine shrinking violet Snow White, but her character is dwarfed by the dominant performance of Lily Savage.
Sean Canning as the Wicked Queen’s much-abused cat ‘Catsmeat’ gives a winsome performance and quickly earns the children’s sympathy with his humorous antics. There is also a pleasant comic performance by a modal raven, whose voice is provided by Bill Dean. If all the characters were developed as much as Catsmeat and the Raven, then this would have been an ensemble piece, as it is the pantomime is a show piece for the comical talents of “Lily Savage”.
Fortunately, Lily Savage succeeds to entertain in bucket loads, and the children boo and hiss with all their might, obviously having a whale of a time.
What other critics had to say.....
FIONA MOUNTFORD for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Unamusing evening." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Apart from Savage, this is a panto that lacks the wow factor." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "For the adults there are oblique jokes, for instance about the dwarfs’ habitat (“I’m well known in all the cottages”), and for the kids plenty of mischievous insults." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "While Lily is a truly wicked old queen who twice tries to bump off Snow White, she also stands outside the action offering a Brechtian running commentary on it."