Snow White, Harrogate Theatre, until January 19 2020. Box office: 01423 502116 or at harrogatetheatre.co.uk
JUST by the entrance to the stalls is a sign. Snow White contains Smoke/Haze, Pyrotechnics, Flashing Lights. The usual, in other words, but then it adds Poison Apples.
A-ha. This is why Harrogate Theatre’s pantomime is such a joy for adults, as well as the children they bring along. The witty extra details.
This latest pantomime collaboration between director Phil Lowe and co-writer and chief executive David Bown doesn’t contain “And The Seven Dwarfs” in the title, but it does contain Tim Stedman in his 20th year as Harrogate’s strawberry-cheeked, squeaky-voiced daft lad.
Back to Stedman in a moment, but first more of those details that make the difference: the sign on stage that points to Base Camp and Too Camp; Harrogate being renamed Happygate in the county of Yawnshire; and the pop-culture words to spot in Wicked Queen Ethel Burger’s castle lair. Spells For Teen Spirits (one for Nirvana fans); Keep Calm & Cast Spells; Tears/Fears.
Then there are the regular mentions of Harrogate’s event of the year:September’s week-long cycling festival, the UCI Road World Championships, that turned the Stray into looking more like a Waif and Stray. “And the bikes have been put away,” came the first mention. “It’s only grass, it will grow back,” we were re-assured by Stedman and on the back page of a mocked-up Happygate Advertiser.
Lowe and Bown certainly have fun stoking the fires of this hot topic that vexes more than agitated letter writers to the local paper.
On a happier note, Stedman’s 20 years of putting the funny ha-ha in Harrogate is a cause for celebration, albeit that his silly billy is given a new name for these politically correct times: Happy Harry, rather than the usual Muddles. Happy to report, however, that he is still the sharpest fool in the foolbox, and the fool is still making fools of others, just as he did in Shakespeare’s plays.
Stedman’s jaunty jester is in cracking clowning form, picking his “victim for humiliation” with a Catch The Apple game that ends with teacher Mrs Smith – an appropriate name, he notes – as his stooge for this particular performance.
His Wheel of Happiness – we should all have one installed at home – is a thing of joy with its tension-building Slice of Danger and his hapless slapstick scene with Pamela Dwyer’s Scottish Hunter the Handyman recalls Laurel and Hardy, while the terrible Christmas cracker jokes keep rolling by. “What do call an exploding monkey?” he asks. “A ba-boon!” Cue groans.
Colin Kiyani’s Prince Lee and Zelina Rebeiro’s Snow White keep the romance and soppy ballad count ticking over and the seven dwarfs make their appearances as big puppet heads, while Alice Barrott’s Magic Mirror is a frank-speaking Southerner in a northern town.
In a piece of metatheatre, Dwyer’s Fairy Ruby Rainbow makes a point of stepping outside the pantomime boundaries to explain that “technically fairies aren’t allowed to be around humans but you can keep my secret safe” as she transforms into castle dogsbody Hunter the Handyman. Both roles are handled with aplomb.
Polly Smith returns to the Harrogate panto, this time as Wicked Queen Ethel Burger, a role with plenty of bite and spite, while fellow returnee Howard Chadwick’s grouchy dame lives up to his name of No Nonsense Nora the Nanny, banning the singing of Baby Shark. Look out for his paintbrush hair-do, one of many delights in Morgan Brind’s designs that provide humour and spectacle in equal measure.
Nick Lacey’s sprightly musical direction and David Kar-Hing Lee’s zesty choreographer add to the enjoyment as Harrogate Theatre revels in the restlessly cheeky Stedman’s 20th anniversary. He’ll return for Cinderella next Christmas, and surely the Stray grass will be back by then too. Won’t it?