_REVIEW.   it’s about _THEATRE.   words _KYLE PEDLEY.
  at _WOLVERHAMPTON GRAND.   tickets _OFFICIAL SITE.   booking until _7th JAN.

December 6, 2023

images © Alex Styles, Tim Thursfield.

“He’s making a list, he’s checking it twice…”

No, not that bearded fellow who clashes with the postboxes. We’re talking about Wolverhampton Grand Chief Exec (and artistic director), Adrian Jackson, the City’s very own Saint Nick this Christmas.

Seizing the moment, grasping the sleigh reins and bringing the Grand’s annual panto fully in-house for the first time in years (last year’s Aladdin having been co-produced with Evolution Productions), Jackson’s festive gambit has arrived. He isn’t shying away in the wings, either; as musical director, he’s front and centre from the off, conducting this year’s Snow White from upstage, and even a game part of a cheeky gag or two.

But has the Grand’s royal panto flourish paid off? Can this Snow White stand out amidst a packed crowd, as QDOS staples and Palladium transfers busy in about it?

In a word, yes. In two, resoundingly so.

Jackson, along with director David Janson, writers Tam Ryan and Ian Adams (more on whom, shortly…) and choreographer Natalie Bennyworth, have conjured up a rich, stonking feast of a pantomime that’s shinier than a fresh basket of golden delicious, glitzier than a rhinestoned dwarf (or puppet) and camper than, well, Christmas.

“It looks exquisite… a spectacle of real quality and polish all-round.”

Firstly, it looks exquisite. Cast aside instincts to throw in a ‘for a panto’ caveat there, too, for with its opulent and layered sets, glorious costumes (courtesy of local Midlands costume house, Triple C) and some truly splendid visual effects and lighting work, this is a spectacle of real quality and polish all-round.

And perhaps most delectable is, for all of its genuinely impressive production value, here is fundamentally a show steeped with local heritage and flavour. From an inspired, Lord of the Rings-style video prologue that introduces us to the history and plight of ‘Wulfrun’ (the show’s cypher for ‘Wolvo’ itself), featuring the likes of serial sponsor Dudley Castle and, naturally, a Steve Bull cameo, through to the reimagining of Snow White’s companions as seven ‘Peaky Miners’, there’s invention and local flavour aplenty throughout. By the time Niki Colwell Evans is skittering about as a nefarious old crone espousing full ‘yam yam’ slang as she tries to palm off her poisonous wares, Snow White’s spell of irrepressible Black Country charm is not only well and truly cast, it may very well spoil you for other, more generic, pantos altogether, too.

Loosely following the titular fairytale of a kindly Princess (returning CBeebies star, Evie Pickerell) banished away to a tower by a villainous stepmother (Evans), the plot is quintessential fun and fluffy pantomime fare. The creatives at play understand that, when it comes to panto, punchlines and set pieces trump plot, and it’s another area where the Grand pull no punches.

Whether it’s a rousing, fist-pumping invocation of Matilda the Musical’s ‘Revolting Children’ delivered via puppet, a joyous sojourn into vaudevillian excellence with a full-throated take on ‘Tap Your Troubles Away’, one of numerous bouts of slapstick chaos with Adams and Ryan (both returning from previous years to popular demand) or one of a number of truly roof-raising belts and showstoppers from Colwell Evans, Snow White is positively stacked with top-drawer panto moments.

It’s notable that its considerable length (panto or not, let’s not go there…) blitzes by, too.

“…what must surely be one of the hardest-working ensembles in all of panto land…”

Of course, this is in no small part thanks to a fantastic cast, including what must surely be one of the hardest-working ensembles in all of panto land, too. A tremendous company not only dance, sing and even ice skate up a storm, but so too do most of them puppeteer one of the seven distinctive ‘Peaky Miners’ to boot. Fantastic work across-the-board, with Elliot Baker-Costello peppering in some awesome vocals, Jack Skelton a hoot as a cantankerous Scot, and Leonie Wall offering some beautiful character work with her timid, mild-mannered ‘Peaky’.

Of the ‘poster’ cast, local-born Pickerill proves a welcome, delightful return, and Eternal’s Kelle Bryan gives great fairy godmother. Fellow CBeebies star Gyasi Sheppy is suitably dashing and game for later hijinks, as Prince William ‘Little Willy’ of Wombourne, and it isn’t difficult to see why the Grand can’t get enough of the award-winning Tam Ryan as a bundle of comedic energy and silliness in Muddles (‘this year’). Not to mention that, joke-for-joke, frock-for-frock, Ian Adams remains one of the finest, if not the finest, panto dames in all the land. Disagree? “I don’t care!”.

Camping and vamping her way to the throne, though, has to be the aforementioned Niki Colwell Evans as the dastardly Queen Dragonella. Not only is the West End star in staggeringly good voice – positively shaking the rafters with takes on ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’ and Bette Midler’s version of ‘I Put A Spell On You’ to name just a couple – but she also crucially never takes herself or the show too seriously, either. It’s a devilishly fun and impressive showing, and Jackson would probably do well to add coaxing her back onto his wish list for 2024’s recently-announced Beauty and the Beast

“Not only is the West End star in staggeringly good voice… she also crucially never takes herself or the show too seriously, either. A devilishly fun and impressive showing…”

There’s no reason that Snow White had to be this good. Jackson, the Grand and all involved could quite easily have rested on their laurels and coasted on the knowledge that the City fairly consistently embraces panto as part of the festive calendar.

It makes the standard of production and performance assembled here all the more laudable and exciting. Here is a show that would not look one iota out of place on a West End stage. It bursts with variety, winning turns, stunning vocals and spectacle at every turn (just you wait to see how they handle the iconic ‘mirror, mirror on the wall…’).

Infused with wit, invention and ambition, stuffed with funny, fabulous performances and all delivered by a knockout company to a show-stopping calibre of sparkle and shine, Snow White is not just the best pantomime this particular reviewer has ever seen in the fair old City of ‘Wulfrun’, it’s also comfortably one of the best pantos you could hope to see this festive period.

An absolute fairytale.

Quite possibly, indeed, the fairest in all the land.

The Grand conjure dazzling fairytale magic with their first fully in-house pantomime in years. Coursing with vision, ambition and festive wonderment, and delivered by a barnstorming company, it’s a lavish, laugh-out loud, West End-worthy treat of a show.


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