2009 Snow Queen
by Michael Buchannan-Smart
Totternhoe Player’s January 2009 pantomime, The Snow Queen, maybe the most polished seasonal offering the group has staged in its 18-year history. The costumes were bright and imaginative; the sets were bold and clear; the lighting and effects were the most striking and hi-tech to date; and Fred Thomas continues to be a huge asset in the role of musical director. With this, and a large, well-prepared cast who needed little prompting, the group continues to produce ever-more professional-looking pantomimes.
It is ironic, then, that the one failing of this particular show was the very element that was truly professional: the script. I was not familiar with Hans Christian Anderson’s original tale before the show, and I must confess that I did not feel much better acquainted after sitting through this rambling, surreal adaptation.
We start with the accidental breaking of the wicked Snow Queen’s magic mirror. She then abducts the principal boy, Kay - from the arms of his sweetheart, Gerda - to help repair it. At the conclusion of Gerda’s search for Kay we end up with a restored mirror (the lad is a whizz with jigsaws), reunited lovers and the Snow Queen banished to the North Pole at the behest of a rather forceful penguin.
In between, we have barely a scrap of a meaningful plot to speak of, and a great host of characters to share it amongst. These include: two dames, a talking reindeer, a talking bat, a talking crow, some talking flowers, some robbers, some Laplanders, a falsetto troll, and a morally ambiguous witch. (She’s essentially good, but if you pop round her gaff for a cup of tea she will keep you imprisoned there forever.)
It is the latter who conjures forth, by accident, the waddling ringleader of the Snow Queen’s expulsion. Hence, the denouement is not so much a case of good defeating evil, but of evil being lectured into submission by a small marine bird. I did say it was surreal, didn’t I?
Lindzi Hayward and Faisal Mohiuddin did their best as Saucy Sue and Glorious Gloria, sharing the bulk of the script, generating what rhythm they could with the clunky dialogue, and working the Marge Simpson-touting-for-business look for all they were worth. However, these characters are more like Cinderella’s Ugly Sisters than a regular dame, which provides a subtle problem for the audience. We can laugh at the Ugly Sisters well enough, without being required to like them. But here, Sue and Gloria should really be the natural focus of the audience’s affection. Much like the aforementioned White Witch, however, they aren’t particularly loveable.
Also, given that the group staged ‘Allo ‘Allo only a few years ago, someone should really have noticed that Saucy Sue’s catchphrase “You stupid woman” is the same insult that Rene, who was played by the very same actor, aims at his long-suffering wife Edith. This was an unfortunate coincidence that had one hankering for the relative sanity of Cafe Artois in occupied France.
While Karen Williams clearly relished the role of the Snow Queen, the overall predominance of ‘the sisters’ left relatively small parts for such panto stalwarts as Barry Hardwick, Simon Perkins, Barbara Slater and Julie Morrey, who all did well, but could have done with more lines. That said, Simon’s turn as Tim Troll seemed to have a momentum all of its own, and each of his 10 or so lines was met with unbridled hilarity, so what the hell do I know? There is clearly much to be said for squeaking, sporting a pink wig and wearing one’s y-fronts outside one’s slacks. For me, it was Karen Wilson, with her cameo as a chief robber, Wendy Grabbitt, who was the pick of the seniors. Her inclusion also adds gusto to the musical numbers, of course.
The roles of principal boy and girl were taken by youngsters Fay Hayward and Claire Bentley respectively, who continue to gain in both presence and confidence judging by this showing. Their songs were nicely sung and well-choreographed, and Hayward, in particular, displays a shining intensity of expression during the dramatic scenes that might see her do well in more serious productions.
Aside from these highlights, the big musical numbers were the best offerings of the night. The Totternhoe stage has rarely been so full, and both the singing and dancing were carried off with a fair flourish by all concerned. In conclusion then, more of the same next year please, but perhaps with a script that makes sense and has some jokes in it.