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Review: Snow White at the Epstein Theatre ***

Never mind Brexit. For those of a certain age, the real division happened on Saturday mornings and was between Team Swap Shop and Team Tiswas.

Michael Chapman – panto writer, director and badass Dame – surely must have been a fan of the dying fly, Bucket of Water Song and Trevor McDonut.

In fact, you can picture him flanning captive kids standing screaming in the Tiswas cage and laughing an evil laugh as he did it.

Here in 2018, not 1978, Chapman is back as the driving force of this year’s LHK Productions seasonal show at the Epstein, which feels more chaotic than ever.

Chaos is fine and dandy, but it also feels decidedly more haphazard dramatically. When it’s good, it’s very funny. But when it’s bad, it’s pretty excruciating.

On the good side, the show is as bright and sparkly as Fairy Claire Simmo’s lipstick, the band is thumping (fuelled, I noticed, by a big tin of Quality Street), and Lewis Pryor is a chirpy and charming Muddles who keeps the little ones engaged.

Mia Molloy – looking like a long-lost Nolan sister in her wig – has a powerful and melodic singing voice, showcased in a storming performance of Try a Little Tenderness which closes the first half. And Alex Patmore arrives direct from Cilla The Musical duties to play a square-jawed Prince.

Then there’s Chapman himself, purveyor of adult jokes - and there are a LOT of them, and for whom there’s no such thing as too far. Occasionally however, there is. On press night that included persistent riffing on a child’s fragile physique in front of a theatre of strangers that left her needing to be comforted by her mum.

Anyway, so far, so classic Epstein festive fayre.

Kim Woodburn as the Wicked Queen in Snow White. Above: Mia Molloy (Snow White) and the dwarfs. Photos by David Munn

But, to loosely nod in Mae West’s direction, there are times this Snow White has definitely drifted.

Many of these, I’m afraid to say, centre around Kim Woodburn’s Wicked Queen. Woodburn, dressed in a Barbara Cartland-turns-evil voluminous pink confection, would probably admit she’s not a natural actress.

She’s also deceptively softly spoken, but her halting, whispering delivery is at odds with the larger-than-life wicked character she’s required to play.

Overall, she’s game for it but simply out of her depth in the middle of all the madness, and her scenes with Derek Acorah’s bizarre Mirror on the Wall are desperately awkward.

Each season brings a new favourite song. Panto fans be warned, Christmas 2018 plunges us deep in to Baby Shark territory. Resistance to this irritating mindworm is futile.

On the other hand, given the success of Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, it’s perhaps no surprise festive shows are full of Queen numbers too – here, aptly, Killer Queen (although Chapman missed a trick with Dame Debbie and Fat Bottomed Girls).

Meanwhile back at the madcap end of proceedings, there’s a frantic 12 Days of Christmas which descends in to water pistol chaos and a Keystone Cops chase through the stalls. Ho ho ho.

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