For many years Birmingham Hippodrome took the crown for having the biggest pantomime in the country before The London Palladium stepped back into pantoland. But this year's show, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, comes to Birmingham from the central London venue and it's so packed with razzle it will dazzle its audiences.
Produced and directed by Michael Harrison, the show has been rescripted for Birmingham so is packed full of local and regional references. In the year the Hippodrome celebrates its 120th birthday, the panto also makes frequent allusions to the venue's history and the many famous feet that have trodden the theatre's boards in the past.
There are also plenty of topical references – Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn receive a namecheck, there's an inevitable nod to Harry and Meghan and there's a razor-sharp jibe at princes who don't sweat in a clear swipe at Prince Andrew's recent television interview. What's more, Harrison has written a little twist into the tale of Snow White, to catch the audience out just when they believe they know where the story is heading.
Harrison's production is an incredible spectacle, with special effects following one after the other. There are magic mirrors, a reindeer-pulled sleigh flying over the audience and a massive dragon head that fills the stage and comes into the auditorium. The sets and costumes are lavish, colourful and glitzy, with beautiful snow scenes, palaces and a dwarfs' cottage set deep in the forest. There's no doubt the team have spent a lot of money on this production and it shows, everything is top quality.
Matt Slack returns to the Hippodrome for his seventh pantomime in a row as the comic sidekick Muddles. A firm favourite with the panto regulars, he's loveable, silly and holds the audience in the palm of his hand. A song in which he lists numerous famous musicals and actors who have played the Hippodrome over the decades is a real showstopper, and he successfully impersonates a whole host of other comedians and panto stars – from Joe Pasquale to Brian Conley.
Lesley Joseph plays a deliciously evil Queen Dragonella. Stalking across the stage in her sweeping frocks and with a freezing glare, she and Slack are a great comedy coupling, being both wicked and great fun. The interplay between the duo during an anarchic "Twelve Days of Christmas" has the audience and the cast is a particular highlight, with everyone in tears of laughter.
It's been a decade since Joe McElderry took The X Factor prize and he's since built up a solid panto repertoire. Perfectly at home in the guise of the Spirit of the Mirror, McElderry is determined to withstand Dragonella's demands while belting out a cracking "I'm Still Standing". Faye Brookes – best known to audiences as Kate Connor in Coronation Street – plays a spirited Snow White while Jac Yarrow is her thoroughly charming Prince Harry of Harborne. Andrew Ryan is the colourful dame Nanny Annie Aspirin and local celebrity Doreen Tipton plays a grumpy Lady in Waiting.
The seven dwarfs kick off the show with gusto and then return to rescue Snow White and take on Dragonella. Dance troupe Flawless are a big hit with the audience as the street dancing Queen's Guards, and the ensemble have some fabulous set pieces – all choreographed by Alan Harding.
Without a doubt Snow White is one of the Hippodrome's best pantos in recent years. It has a cast who work brilliantly together, some jaw-dropping spectacle and lots of laughs. Children and adults alike will love it.