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The Anvil - Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

13th December 2007 to 6th January 2008.

From the Basingstoke Gazette.

While we have the wonderful Wizard of Oz going on in The Haymarket, it's appropriate that this year's Anvil production is another timeless tale, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

And it marks the very welcome return to Basingstoke of CBeebies' Chris Jarvis, a consummate professional whose panto shtick is, at this stage, honed to perfection.

As the director - and person who has expertly tweaked the traditional script - Chris has crafted the perfect family pantomime. Audiences will be heartened to know that the usual suspects, the "he's behind you", the super-soaking and yes, even the sweet-throwing, are all there, in amongst Disney songs, original songs and the narrative we all know so well.

And there's input from talented local children too, from Kelly Hopkins Theatre Arts and Basingstoke Academy of Dance.

Chris plays Muddles the Jester, who has a crush on the lovely Princess Snow White (a perfect Rebecca Marks). Her wicked stepmother (Carol Harrison), jealous of her beauty, wants her murdered pronto, but Muddles and the Henchman (Tom Owen) dispatch her instead to the forest, where she takes refuge with the dwarfs in their cottage.

Once again, UK Productions have come up trumps, using actors with dwarfism rather than children for the titular heroes, and expertly casting every other role. Refreshingly, we also have a man playing Prince Rooney of the Candovers, (Ian McLarnon) which adds a real frisson to the romantic plotline.

Both Ian and Rebecca have fabulous singing voices, and his performance of Take That's Rule the World provides a beautifully still moment in the middle of the frantic action. A version of the Scissor Sisters' I Don't Feel Like Dancing about cleaning up is perhaps the biggest hit.

This show's contemporary references and employment of harmless innuendo will charm the adults as well as the kids, with mentions of celebrities, pokes on Facebook and the revelation that Snow White's father "died in a canoeing accident".

Chris is a talented mimic, and impressions of Bruce Forsyth, Kenneth Williams and the cast of The Simpsons litter the running time. His energy and enthusiasm anchor proceedings and you know you're at a panto when he responds to someone's plea of "help me get down" with a rendition of James Brown's I Feel Good and a shimmy of his hips!

His input also explains the slew of CBeebies' references, which include a Balamory sequence and a special In the Night Garden appearance. And only someone as capable as Chris can command and control a section where children from the audience come up on stage to speak to him about Christmas. Their answers are always unique and heartwarming.

But the biggest accolades belong to former EastEnder Carol, who throws her absolute all into her terrific performance. She delivers her lines - "stick 'em in the toilet and flush 'em away!" - with relish, adding just the right amount of vitriol, and manages to transform into a genuinely terrifying hag live on stage. Her performance is so good that the children next to me were transfixed, so busy watching her with their mouths hanging open that they forgot to boo.

My companion at this year's Anvil Christmas show was a pantomime virgin who was missing a rather quality afternoon of Premiership football. The fact that he came away having thoroughly enjoyed it, and not regretted being there for one second, speaks volumes!


There are reviews in The Stage ("while there is nothing specific to fault in the direction, there could have been a greater compatibility to pull the production together") and ("a perfectly-honed pantomime package... few surprises but there is little to fault ").