This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub
Charles Court Opera’s annual “boutique” pantomime is something of North London legend. Having spent eight successful years at the Rosemary Branch Theatre, it has now made a new home half a mile away at the King’s Head, where it uses the venue’s close atmosphere to its full advantage in an intimate, inventive Christmas production that endears just as much as it amuses.
John Savournin and David Eaton’s show, Mirror Mirror, is extremely loosely based on the fairytale of Snow White, but, much to its benefit, it is far from a traditional panto. Savournin himself cross-dresses to play a dainty, smugly grinning, recently widowed Snow, who attracts the attention of Larry Black (Amy J Payne), a dashing, bombastic prince. Their road to marital bliss is blocked by the dastardly, cackling Queen (Andrea Tweedale), whose jealous rage drives her to destroy Snow and commit dwarf genocide.
Nichola Jolly plays the Prince’s suave companion, who is accidentally transfigured into a frog halfway through, and Matthew Kellett has his work cut out for him playing all seven dwarves (who, due to rights restrictions apparently, have had to be hilariously renamed). It is Simon Masterton-Smith, voicing the Queen’s evil looking-glass, that is the piece’s true villain – or is he just a psychological construction embodying all the Queen’s anger and resentment that can handily be disposed of at the end of the show…
William Fricker’s busy, intricate set is squeezed onto the stage, and the cast have great fun careering around it in a series of outrageous get-ups. Much fun is had over Snow White’s late husband, Barry White, and towards the show’s conclusion, the audience is even treated to an angelic appearance of the deep-voiced singer. Silliness reigns. Appalling jokes abound. Extravagant costumes are everywhere.
And every few minutes, everything stops for a highly-choreographed musical number, in which the cast’s operatic pedigree is obvious. Savournin and Eaton have reworked a host of classic throwback tunes that have the audience humming along immediately. Highlights include I’ve Got To Make Tea (to the tune of Queen’s I Want To Break Free), a rendition of Abba’s Mamma Mia, and a medley of songs all sharing the same chord progression, incorporating Lady Gaga and some anthems from Les Mis, among others.
And in the midst of it all, a real sense of community is fostered – as it is with so many shows at the King’s Head – evidenced by the audience’s enthusiasm to get involved throughout. They boo and hiss the baddies, clap along to the musical numbers, and even get up on stage to compete in a biscuit-making challenge. The show’s closing song, a reworking of the Spice Girls classic Wannabe, is a glorious moment of mass audience participation that warms to the very core.