There are those that believe the House of Commons is just like a pantomime and so perhaps it’s not surprising to find the honourable former Member for Maidstone making her stage debut in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs.
In what has perhaps been the headline grabbing casting of the panto season, Ann Widdecombe follows her Strictly Come Dancing appearance to join the show’s acid tongued judge Craig Revel Horwood at Dartford’s Orchard Theatre.
What may initially seem stunt casting to boost ticket sales actually turns out to be a move of pure inspiration as the Widdecombe/Revel Horwood double act provides a real heart to the piece.
Evil Queen Lucretia, determined to cling on to her fantasy of being the fairest in the land. Her beautiful niece, Snow White, though may scupper that claim and the evil Queen sets about to thwart any plans the dashing Prince David may have of marrying Snow White. While Widdy-In-Waiting, the Queen’s put-upon lady in waiting has her own plot twist to reveal at the very last moment.
Revel Horwood dons a series of outrageous sparkling frocks and revels in the Queen’s acerbic put-downs. It’s a performance of impeccable detail and Revel Horwood makes a disturbingly convincing woman. While Revel Horwood’s skills as a dancer and choreographer are well known, he also possesses an impressive vocal range, belting out numbers with deceptive ease. It is, though, when his lady in waiting appears that the magic really begins, Miss Widdecombe makes her entrance, tottering around in a parody of her Strictly dance routine but, while she is clearly no formally trained actress, she never puts a foot out of place with a flair for comic timing and deadpan delivery. Never afraid to send herself up, Widdecombe flashes her footwork with the rest of the company, peppers the evening with off the cuff remarks about political figures and proves to be more than a match for Revel Horwood’s put-downs. There’s real chemistry between the duo and a potential for a new comedy duo with Widdecombe acting as foil to Revel Horwood’s outrageous commentary.
While the duo steal the limelight, there is plenty more to enjoy here. Jonathan Kiely and Tudor Davies’ script provides all the expected panto fare, mixed with plenty of topical references and, of course, plenty of in-jokes for Strictly fans. References to Arlene Phillips and Bruno Tonioli may be less than kind but fellow judge Len Goodman fares better as he makes an uncredited cameo appearance.
Gregor Stewart and Shinead Byrne sing beautifully as the lovestruck Prince David and Snow White, while Nick Wier has endless charm and energy as court clown Muddles. Add in the obligatory dwarves, plenty of dancing animals and plenty of upbeat musical numbers and there’s enough energy here to light up a small town.
The show looks beautiful and there’s enough slapstick and visual humour to keep even the youngest audience members gripped, while more mature members of the audience will savour the more adult double entendres and in jokes to the dance series.
This is traditional panto at its best but given a contemporary twist without losing any of the magic. Purists may bemoan the invasion of celebrity casting in pantomime but, while Ann Widdecombe and Craig Revel Horwood may grab the media attention, it is the performances and production that earn the casting.
This is one strictly fab-u-lous pantomime that deserves anyone’s vote.
Review originally written for The Public Reviews