Easter is certainly not panto time, but with the downer of cancelling my holiday plans due to illness casting a gloom over everything, the idea of going to see a raunchy retake on a children’s classic seemed like just the thing to cheer me up. A posse of drag queens doing Snow White in a gay bar the day before Easter (and for £18.50 top price)? Sign me up!
I’m pleased to say that before the first act was over I’d 1) seen the crassest costume ever to “grace” a London stage (the prince’s, not Horrible Hilda’s, if you were wondering) 2) been amazed by the rudeness of the front row drunk girls (and the manly attempts of the cast to keep them in check) and 3) heard a song so shamefully inappropriate for children that it had somehow entirely failed to get a reworking in a single one of the standard pantos I’d seen during the Christmas season (“Whips and Chains,” which I’d actually never heard at all before thanks to quitting the gym a year back). Not a bad start, eh?
The story was, of course, fairly standard, but the subtext was front and center (the huntsman – Horrible Hilda, I mean – had an orgy with Snow White and two well-endowed squirrels rather than just leaving her to her doom) – and if we were short of subtext, then that meant it was probably time to pull a dildo from the box (AHEM the prop box!). There was also lots of profanity (the Magic Mirror’s greeting was “Fuck off, mirror,” which isn’t quite standard if you’re familiar with the tropes of panto) and general vulgarity. And just in case you thought you were safe, the cast came out and mocked you where you sat, one by one through about the fourth row (I got it before the show started, with some wrinkled geezer giving me shit for not knowing the dance to the Birdie Song).
Of course, it’s the drag queens that made this show fabulous, and who wouldn’t want not one but THREE egotistical, bitchy “dames” giving you all of the sassy ad-lib you could ever hope for. Well, actually, Snow White (Tanya Hyde, far more personable than the person they hired to do this role in Wimbledon) herself didn’t entirely go for it the way that the Evil Queen (“Mrs Moore”) and Horrible Hilda (Simon Gross) did (not that she didn’t offer to beat the drunk girls with her shoe), but two dames is more than most shows get, and Queenie and Hilda weren’t just over the top, they jumped the shark. Not only did we get double entendre, we got single entendre; and then of course there was Hilda’s quite literally minging costume not to mention the way Queenie felt herself up every time she got booed (another break from the usual panto tropes).
But you’re asking yourself, I’m sure, what about the dwarves? The whole key to Snow White (and only saving grace of the Wimbledon production) was the seven people of lesser stature they got to entertain us while Snowie was chirping about in the woods. And looking at this tiny cast, I was wondering: just where the heck were they going to find seven people period? As the various “poof” characters marched onto stage (including the confused Prince), we got up to six … and then, charging from the back of the house, the light board operator came on in full lumberjack regalia to round out the set with … a lesbian. The crew was basically like an expanded version of the Village People, with the addition of characters like “Subby” and “Fag Hag” – and rather than a cute little version of “Our House,” they did some kind of song that seemed like something from Benny Hill with absolutely filthy limericks. It was the total opposite of “normal” panto but then was as utterly, perfectly British as a raunchy seaside postcard … I was almost in tears.
While I missed the chances the show might have taken with political asides (like the deliciously topical Above the Stag’s “Get Aladdin”), the fun it did have with panto traditions (the visit of the Dick Whittington asking if anyone had seen a pussy was rich) and the genuine talent of the cast, both at singing (nice pipes, Snowy!) and at flinging the saucy ad libs made for a roaring night out. And me? I may have suggested that what the evil queen really needed was a serious makeover, but I was stone cold sober.
(This review is for a performance that was seen on March 30th, 2013. It continues through April 7th.)