They are new to the King’s Head, but Charles Court Opera aren’t new to pantomime. This year’s Mirror Mirror: A Snow White Pantomime is their ninth “boutique” panto. Though an opera company, this show and cast of six are anything but stereotypical opera fare. John Savournin’s script is fresh and witty, the performances are camp and vibrant, and the re-written pop song soundtrack is so well sung that it deserves a cast recording. There’s plenty of typical panto interaction, made easier and more personal in a fringe venue but doesn’t overwhelm the space, either. Though the costumes are detailed and fun, the set is a bit analog and takes up a lot of playing space, restricting movement and choreography. Some of the performances were more genuine than others, but this remains a wonderfully current panto with excellent writing.
Savournin also directs and plays Snow White, the ditzy, ingénue widow of Barry White living with the seven dwarfs, all distinctly and energetically played by Matthew Kellet. Greedy queen Andrea Tweedale uses her mirror (Simon Masterton-Smith) to help her search for a husband, but her plans are thwarted when prince Larry Black (Amy J Payne) and his valet Harry (Nichola Jolly) show up looking for a bride and instead of being impressed by her beauty, Larry falls for Snow. The traditional story veers off in numerous contemporary directions from there, which adds to the audience’s delight and prevents the show from becoming stale or generic. The music is mostly cleverly reworked pop songs, but there’s a bit of musical theatre thrown in and the Act one Finale numbers are fantastic.
No individual performer overshadows the others, instead they are a balanced lot with clear strengths. Payne and Jolly are a charismatic pair, with Kellett’s range of dwarves a hilarious counterpoint to the leads. Savournin’s Snow is shallow but sweet and doesn’t fall short in any of the creative roles he takes on. Tweedale stokes the audiences’ booing and aww-ing brilliantly. The height difference between Savournin and Payne supports the comedy heavily peppering the dialogue, as does the cross-gender casting that goes beyond the dame and principal boy. There is some lovely chemistry between some of the characters but even though it’s a panto, there could be more between Payne and Savournin.
There’s loads of audience interaction and mess, the best being a Great British Bake Off-style competition that results in dough everywhere. Of course, there’s your usual panto call and response but not so much so that the script is otherwise flimsy. The unique visual gags Savournin employs are much more satisfying, anyway (pro tip: look out for Barry). A few give a nod to tradition, but this is definitely a language-focused script. This gives the performance a richness and depth missing from more traditional fare, hence the “boutique” label. Charles Court Opera is certainly onto a winning formula here within London pantomime offerings and is not one panto fans should miss.
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