Magda Szubanski’s wicked panto queen steals Snow White show

Pantomime is all about loud and frequent audience feedback. Which is why, no doubt, free lolly bags were being distributed to the youngsters on this opening night. Lights down and 10 minutes into the sugar rush, the kids were bouncing off the walls and in full voice for this larky version of the Snow White story padded with pop songs, audience patter and the time-worn rituals of panto.

Panto villain: The queen was soundly booed. Photo: Kurt Sneddon
Panto villain: The queen was soundly booed. Photo: Kurt Sneddon

The Wicked Queen Grismalda (Magda Szubanski) has just learned from her two-faced magic mirror (Sir Cliff Richard and Kyle Sandilands, in video form) that she is no longer the fairest in the land. That honour now belongs to Snow White (Erin Clare), who has come of age and delighted the eye of the handsome Prince Handsome (Andrew Cutcliffe).

Grismalda is having none of it. Snow White is demoted from P-plate princess material to floor-sweeper, and sent on a one-way trip into the forest. When Grismalda gets word that her evil plans have been foiled (Snow White having been adopted by dwarves), out comes the poisoned apple.

The script is heavy with doggerel and wheezy puns and peppered with locally topical references (to ’59 Grange Hermitage, for example). We all know what’s coming, more or less, though director Bonnie Lythgoe makes a long haul of it with frequent stops for songs, dance routines, pantomime set pieces (10 minutes is devoted to a “ghost gag”) and Sir Cliff lip-synching “Devil Woman” in its entirety. The show is noticeably slow out of the traps after interval.

That Snow White doesn’t become exasperating is down to the comic chops of James Rees, who plays the hapless jester Muddles, and Peter Everett as Snow White’s campy guardian, Chambers. Cutcliffe is perfectly princely, and Clare and Josh Adamson (Herman the Huntsman) shine in song. The show is the Wicked Queen’s to steal, however, and an imperious Szubanski does just that, borne along on waves of audience booing and delivering her songs in an arch recitativo.

Whether Lythgoe will succeed in her stated aim of re-introducing Australian audiences to the pantomime is anyone’s guess. She certainly has her work cut out wresting the family audience away from behemoths such as The Lion King and Wicked. Makes you wonder what influence this more interactive form of theatre might have on new audiences, though.

Just think how much fun Macbeth would be, if, when Banquo materialises, we all shout out, “Behind you!”

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Published: July 7, 2014 – 9:07AM


State Theatre, July 4

Until July 13

Reviewed by Jason Blake