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Review of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs panto starring Strictly judge Shirley Ballas at Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells


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Aren't some of the best bits in panto the apparent line-fluffs, slip-ups and ad-libs (or so we are often led to believe they are)?

But it's not often that one of the best moments is provided, in a roundabout way, by us, the audience, as happened in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Assembly Hall Theatre in Tunbridge Wells.

Shirley Ballas Picture: Assembly Hall Theatre
Shirley Ballas Picture: Assembly Hall Theatre

Last night, we were all intently watching as Herman the Henchman (played by Cameron Blakely and arguably my favourite performance of the night) went to kill Snow White... cue stabbing music... and wait, oh he kind of did it, as the audience fluffed our lines and failed to shout out and stop him as he was plunging the (plastic) knife in.

It was only when the cast started laughing that we all cottoned on to what we should have done and why it had gone so hilariously wrong.

This moment summed up the night - there were lots of laughs and, most importantly, the excellent cast knew exactly how to take them and run with them.

This year is the first time the award-winning Evolution - who have produced many hugely successful years at the Marlowe Theatre - have produced the panto at Tunbridge Wells, and it showed.

With writing by Paul Hendy, it was always likely to be on to a winner, but it still needed some top acting, plus direction (provided by the theatre's director JJ Almond) to make it a real winner.

Shirley Ballas and the cast of Sleeping Beauty at Tunbridge Wells Picture: Assembly Hall Theatre (52888473)
Shirley Ballas and the cast of Sleeping Beauty at Tunbridge Wells Picture: Assembly Hall Theatre (52888473)

There were some similarities between the show and this year's panto at the Marlowe, but, hey, I loved that one, so who's complaining?

The show stars Everyone's Talking About Jamie's Leon Craig as Nurse Nellie the dame, who was exactly how a dame should be - saucy and loud, with a ready quip to the audience - and Strictly head judge Shirley Ballas as the Wicked Queen.

After the Strictly final on Saturday, it was a miracle Shirley had the energy for some of the moves she pulled off, but pull them off she did to plenty of cheers and whoops from the audience.

It did, however, also make her hard to boo. I know she had sent in an interview with us last week "bring them on" about the boos but she really did have to encourage the crowd to boo her.

There were some up to date gags about sexuality, and the fact that Snow White only does the dwarfs' cleaning because she chooses to - and not because she is a woman.

The rest of the cast all were excellent, including Muddles (Damian Patton) who somehow managed to get a massive "Hiya Muddles" out of the crowd every time he came on, despite us all being so muffled by our face masks.

Shirley Ballas Picture: Assembly Hall Theatre
Shirley Ballas Picture: Assembly Hall Theatre

And there were a range of local gags, mainly aimed at Sevenoaks, though Tunbridge Wells itself didn't miss out entirely.

It was a terrific show and enjoyable night, and we should all keep everything crossed that the show is able to complete its entire run through to Monday, January 3, without any Covid hiccups.

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