snow white

Joe McElderry, Jac Yarrow, Faye Brookes, Matt Slack, Lesley Joseph, Doreen Tipton and Andrew Ryan. Picture - Simon Hadley

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Birmingham Hippodrome


This is as near to the perfect panto as you are likely to get . . . so far. It’s great fun, clever, daft and most of all glorious entertainment for all ages – the best panto I have seen for years.

And, as I probably said that last year as well, it is a testament to Matt Slack and Qdos that they manage to squeeze that bit more out of brilliant each year – and as they are already signed up for 2020 with Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the challenge will be on again.

Matt, in his seventh year at the Hippodrome, has become a festive fixture in Brum, as traditional now as mince pies, yule logs and Christmas pudding and it is easy to see why.

My eight year old grandson was roaring with laughter at his antics as Muddles as he pulled off the remarkable trick of being naughtily funny on an adult level and daft as a brush on a child’s level, all at the same time with everyone laughing for different reasons . . . I really must find out why brushes are daft one day.

matt slacks

Crowd favourite, Matt Slack

He also has that ability to make old panto routines look fresh and new and his 120th anniversary Hippodrome Birthday song is just magnificent as well as a remarkable test of memory. It is a song consisting of just the names of the star performers who have played on the Hippodrome stage over the years then drifting into a long list of the shows and musicals that have appeared there, all at high speed. Miss one name or show and there would be nowhere to hide.

He is not alone in the funfest though with Lesley Joseph a wonderful baddie as Queen Dragonella, deliciously evil when she remembers and, for old time’s sake, I suppose, continuing Dorien’s lifelong hobby of collecting toyboys. You couldn't boo Lesley, she is just too nice even when she is bad.

Her interaction with Matt Slack is a comic delight and even has its unscripted moments such as when Muddles gets his hand tangled up in her wig, pulling it off, leaving her regal evilness somewhat bald in her wig cap for the remaining mayhem of an alternative 12 days of Christmas, a song which appears to be as much for the enjoyment of the cast as the audience.

Joining the evil one and the muddled one in that particular mangled rendition are Joe McElderry as The Spirit of the Mirror, all sparkly and reflective, Andrew Ryan as Nanny Annie Asprin, as traditional a dame as you will see, oh yes he is! oh no he isn’t . . . (and on and on for the next ten paragraphs) and, avoiding Tipton DWP snoopers, Doreen Tipton, the (benefits) Queen of the Black Country as The Lady in Waiting. She does waiting really well - its the doing bit she has difficulty with.


Woken up just for the photograph, Doreen Tipton

Doreen, who presumably is paid cash in hand, no photographs without the neck brace please, and don’t tell the social I’m here, brings her own brand of lethargy, apathy and finely honed, professional idleness with her, ensuring the panto can’t get any airs and graces and move up market. She has become a Midland legend and beyond, or a leg end as she probably has it, and adds her own brand of humour – even if Muddles has no clue what she is saying. Perhaps there should be surtitles for southerners.

Then there is Andrew Ryan, with a new frock for every scene, who has some 33 years of he’s behind you behind him, with 29 of them as a dame. The dame is a splendid tradition with jokes almost as old as the days of Dan Leno, and a performance so far over the top it is probably snow-capped and Ryan maintains that particularly English institution with aplomb.

It’s 10 years since Joe McElderry won The X-Factor and his voice also took him to the Popstar to Operastar title two years later, so we know the lad can sing but he also brings a lovely smile and happy personality to the role, with the audience warming to him as soon as he appears.

queen lesley

Evil(ish) Lesley Joseph

Faye Brookes has a host of West End and West End tours behind her as well as appearing as Kate Connor in Coronation Street and she shines as Princess Snow White while Jac Yarrow as Prince Harry of Harborne is a rising musical theatre star.

He only graduated in summer and then made his professional debut as Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Palladium. He looked right at home and is one to keep an eye on – Dragonella certainly was!

While Joe was wowing them on The X-Factor back in 2009, Flawless were hitting the heights on Britain’s Got Talent and have become leaders in Street dance bringing their trademark skill, precision and excitement to their routines as The Queen’s Guards, carrying an old style variety show feel to proceedings, something once a hallmark of panto.

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In sparkling from, Joe McElderry

And then there are the dwarfs themselves, all seven of them, all seasoned actors with plenty of theatre, film and TV work on their CVs from Harry Potter to the RSC, forming a nice double, or should that be octuple act with Matt Slack, where size, rather than being self-consciously avoided, becomes a running joke.

The 10 strong ensemble, five men, five women, are a hard working lot with plenty of scene changes from winter wonderland to evil assistants, to ghosts to courtiers, towns people and anything else the script demands with routines which are never . . . well, routine from choreographer Alan Harding.

As always there is that children on stage moment, something Matt Slack is good at, making audiences laugh with rather than at the children. This time four came up and three played along – I suppose three out of four ain’t bad. The fourth? Well you win some and sometimes you are glad to lose some.

Meanwhile the five strong band under musical director Robert Willis manage to sound lounder and bigger than they are.

snow whites faye

And who could forget Snow White Herself, Faye Brookes

Panto these days has to have more and more special effects so we see Muddles flying high over the audience in a sleigh pulled by a pair of prancing animated reindeer while, less friendly, in act II Queen Dragonella soars above the stalls on an evil looking dragon – all courtesy of The Twins FX.

Many of the seven dwarfs were in the same show at The London Palladium last Christmas and the West End production values are there for all to see. The set design from Ian Westbrook 3D Creations is glittering and sparkling, costumes just ooze class while Ben Cracknell’s lighting must have more bulbs than an Amsterdam tulip farm. It brings life . . . or evil gloom . . . to every scene.

This is the tenth panto top West End director Michael Harrison has created for the Hippodrome and he has the knack of letting the cast put their own stamp on the basic framework he provides, bringing in topical and local jokes in a fast moving feast of entertainment - with a plot twist you will never guess . . .

It is a glitzy, spectacular panto, great fun for everyone from youngsters to ancient maiden aunts, packed with laughs and moments of comic genius. The best yet. If you don’t leave with a huge happy smile on your face, get someone to check your pulse. To 02-02-20.

Now what are those dates for Goldilocks next year . . .

Roger Clarke


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