Snow White review – festive filth from Julian Clary and Dawn French

London Palladium
Rollerskating snowmen, a hydraulic dragon, a Strictly duo and Nigel Havers are among the attractions in this variety panto

With Snow White, Julian Clary enters his third consecutive year of smuggling filth on to the London Palladium stage in the guise of family entertainment. Concealed entrances, back passages and heavy snowfall (“There was eight inches outside my window this morning”) all get a look-in. Goodness knows how he keeps it up.

Dawn French is the other star draw in a production so brash it makes Wicked look like Beckett. As Queen Dragonella to Clary’s Man in the Mirror, French has bounce and cheek, as well as some odd, Eddie Izzard-like inflections. Much of the usual panto team is back, including the director Michael Harrison and guest star Nigel Havers, whose entire appearance hinges, as usual, on him having nothing to do; it’s not so much a running joke as a limping one.

A subdued dame … Gary Wilmot, centre.
A subdued dame … Gary Wilmot, centre. Photograph: Paul Coltas

The ventriloquist Paul Zerdin holds the show together, his ebullient puppet Sam experiencing a flash of sincere horror when he realises where Zerdin’s other hand is (“You animal!”). Gary Wilmot makes a subdued dame but then a Mardi Gras parade would look understated next to Clary, whose outfits include a painter’s palette, a Christmas tree laden with baubles and a trellis in bloom.

It’s essentially a variety bill, mercifully divorced from reality. (I counted only one mention of Brexit, unless the set featuring “Cameron’s Roasted Nuts” refers to a former prime minister rather than a theatrical impresario.) There are rollerskating snowmen, daredevil gymnasts and a hydraulic dragon. The ex-Strictly hoofers Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace perform a nimble tango around Snow White’s comatose body, dancing near, if not quite on, her grave.

All the chemistry … Julian Clary and Dawn French in Snow White.
All the chemistry … Julian Clary and Dawn French in Snow White. Photograph: Paul Coltas

The dwarfs – renamed The Magnificent Seven – are given short shrift but then even Snow White, played by Over the Rainbow winner Danielle Hope, feels rather sidelined. It’s more cruel than funny when French refers to her as: “Insert actress’s name here.” All very well to joke about women being neglected by panto, but one of the two male writers might have subverted those expectations, or brought in a woman who could. The most convincing romantic chemistry is between Clary and Charlie Stemp as Prince Harry of Hampstead, leaving Snow White a gooseberry in the show that bears her name.


Ryan Gilbey

The GuardianTramp

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