The New Theatre pantomime has become a real tradition for our family. We have been attending for the last decade with only one interruption due to lockdown in 2020 and for us it has come to represent the beginning of the Christmas countdown. With my older two children now teenagers I thought that their previous enthusiasm might have waned but when I asked them whether or not they wanted to attend this year their excitement was palpable.
Fortunately, this year’s offering “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” didn’t disappoint, being one of the best that we have seen. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what set it apart from other pantos with much of the production being formulaic and ticking the boxes that every New Theatre pantomime must tick – lavish sets, intricate costumes and tightly-choreographed dance routines. There is the usual mix of traditional songs (“whistle while you work” and “heigh ho”) interspersed with current songs (the inclusion of Megan Trainor’s “Made You Look” delighting my youngest) and slapstick humour.
There were familiar faces too – Gareth “Alfie” Thomas and Mike Doyle are now permanent fixtures in the New Theatre panto but still seem to delight in appearing. In all honesty, Alfie is as wooden as he was in his first appearance back in 2014 but this awkwardness becomes an asset as he readily sends himself up and easily laughs at himself.
Given his repeat appearances it would be easy to take Doyle’s brilliance for granted but he really is the archetypal panto dame and could easily carry the show on his own. His flamboyant costumes, outrageous humour and quick-witted adlibs steal every scene. His catchphrase “aarriight” was clearly familiar to many in the audience and I particularly liked his use of the posher version “ooohhhrriight” reserved for the audience members from Cowbridge sitting in the boxes!
Local humour is another part of the formula with the usual references to Swansea, chippy alley etc. Perhaps more surprising, given that panto may not be the obvious setting for political point scoring, were the numerous jokes at the expense of a certain Matt Hancock which this audience member certainly enjoyed.
The usual platitudes of what a great audience we had been were trotted out at the end of the show but it was clear that everyone had enjoyed themselves. The energy and enthusiasm in the auditorium was palpable and was no doubt helped by the encouragement of audience participation – not only in the usual pantomime “oh no he isn’t… oh yes he is” way but also when the audience were encouraged to get on their feet and join in the dance routines and when one audience member was pulled up on stage to take part in a routine with the ventriloquist Steve Hewlett.
For me the star of the show was Ian “H” Watkins from Steps who played the mirror. He has an easy charm, a strong voice perfect for panto and the inclusion of various Steps songs and dance routines delighted the audience, or at least the older members! He was also the star of the stand out scene from the show when he flew out over the audience on a motorbike at the end of the first half.
The celebrity “names” tend to dominate the panto each year but Denquar Chupak, as Snow White, and Nay-Nay Gapomo, as the charming Prince Carwyn of Conwy, more than held their own with undoubtably the strongest singing voices in the cast.
I find it slightly uncomfortable to endorse a show where the heroine’s raison d’être is to snare her Prince Charming and where said prince’s choice is based entirely upon who is the prettiest in the land but hey it’s Christmas and it’s panto and with a cast this strong and such high production values it was impossible not to leave the theatre in high spirits and definitely ready for Christmas!
Denquar Chupak and Nay-Nay Gapomo
Siân Reeves and H
Snow White runs at New Theatre Cardiff until 8 January 2023.
Images Tim Dickeson