Last year, the New Wimbledon Theatre proved conclusively that there’s nothing like a Dame when Barry Humphries as Edna Everage made a truly spectacular pantomime debut in Dick Whittington. From her first appearance hoisted across the auditorium, wearing a Union Jack frock, to the irreverent meta-commentary that she kept up on all aspects of the production Humphries’s greatest creation made last year’s Wimbledon panto a particularly special experience, wafting the show high on a series of barbed quips.
It’s a tough act to follow, to be sure. So this year Wimbledon have opted for star power and Hollywood glamour over Humphries’ honed theatrical expertise, casting Priscilla Presley as the Wicked Queen Morgana of Moravia in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, alongside Warwick Davis. Making one’s theatre debut at age 67 may seem equal parts brave and foolish. But, lest we forget, the still-luscious Presley proved herself more than game for a jape in the three Naked Gun films, whether spoofing the Ghost “potter’s wheel” scene or appearing swathed in a giant condom. And after a slightly stilted start she warms up nicely into her role here, clearly relishing the boos and laughs she elicits. She has a little trouble negotiating some of the references in Eric Potts’s script: allusions to Clapham, Nando’s, and even Olly Murs get endearingly mangled. But the odd moment of bewilderment only succeeds in getting us on her side. Mostly, she’s physically nimble, up for a spot of self-parody and lovely to watch (and, needless to say, fabulously costumed throughout), with a cougar-ish slink through “I’m Evil” her highlight of the night.
Director Ian Talbot stages some amusing set pieces throughout, with the first appearance of the Dwarves - to “Heigh Ho,” natch - a particular delight. And Potts’s script cuts down on flab and filler to deliver a surprisingly streamlined take on the Snow White story that still finds space to crowbar in a range of contemporary references, incorporating crowd-pleasing nods to I’m A Celebrity and the Olympics (an Ellie Simmonds running gag is especially choice) as well as a lovely X Factor “sob story” parody and (inevitable) Gangnam Style moment.
And surrounding Presley a highly competent cast does not flag. Lizzy Jay Hughes’s Snow White and James Austen-Murray’s pose-striking Prince are both pleasing, while Lee Carroll’s jester Muddles delivers his traditional schtick with flair. The real stars of the show, though, are Warwick Davis who presides over the Dwarves delightfully as Prof, and the aptly-monikered Jarred Christmas who’s simply super as the Queen’s reluctant Henchman, especially in an epic Geordie/Cockney routine.
The Queen’s final defeat seems a bit of an anti-climax, but on the plus side the show doesn’t outstay its welcome, keeping a snappy pace to the end. It is, inevitably, a tamer and more traditional pantomime experience than last year’s Wimbledon show but there’s more than enough charm and amusement on offer here to make this a panto to recommend.
Runs until 13th January.
Reviewed for The Public Reviews.