The Palladium panto is establishing itself as a highlight on the theatrical calendar, with 2017’s Dick Whittington earning an Olivier award. The cast has become something of an institution in the process with Julian Clary, Nigel Havers, Gary Wilmot, Paul Zerdin and West End (and now Broadway) star Charlie Stemp returning. They are joined this year by Danielle Hope in the title role and Strictly Come Dancing stars Vincent and Flavia as a speciality act.
The show itself is routine panto stuff, with jokes and routines very like those to be seen, for example, at the Orchard Theatre’s Aladdin. This is partly because a proper panto requires a certain adherence to tradition (even when it comes to the jokes!). Also because the shows share the same production company – including many of the creatives.
But the Palladium panto is head and shoulders above the rest because of the cast. Dawn French is beloved by the nation and this warmth transcends the booing she obviously gets as the wicked queen. Nigel Havers once again allows himself to be ribbed mercilessly as he tries (in vain) to secure a decent part for himself in the show, this year hoping to be allowed on as Julian Clary’s understudy. Gary Wilmot has effortless stage presence and brilliant technique, showing off his patter skills with a fiendish G&S song with the words being the names of almost every star to have performed at the Palladium. Paul Zerdin and his puppet Sam bring fresh energy and fun to the standard ventriloquist act, brilliantly engaging the audience. Danielle Hope is back on home ground where she first found fame playing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, and becomes a delightfully enchanting Snow White.
Charlie Stemp, meanwhile, plays along gamely as the but of jokes about his inability to remember lines and his up-coming role as Bert in the West End revival of Mary Poppins. But his star quality shines through in the musical numbers where his athletic dancing ability is outstanding. He even bravely joins in with the speciality gymnastic act as they hurl themselves around the stage and over a wooden horse. I assume someone paid-up the extra insurance premium!
The undoubted star though, is Julian Clary, still mining comedy gold from withering put-downs and near the knuckle double entendres. In his task of out-shining everyone on stage he is considerably aided by his outstanding and outrageous costumes which are like pieces of scenery in their own right.
We are also privileged to have a line-up of seven dwarves played by actors, not children as in some versions, a large ensemble and a great band in the pit who somehow this year seemed to have escaped Mr Clary’s attentions.
Snow White is at The London Palladium until 13 January 2019.