Snow White – Winter Family Musical

State Theatre, July 4

Magda Szubanski and ensemble. Photo: Kurt Sneddon, Blueprint Studios

Magda Szubanski and ensemble. Photo: Kurt Sneddon, Blueprint Studios

The Christmas pantomime is a popular British tradition. After success in the US, Bonnie Lythgoe hopes to introduce an annual panto here. If her first production, Snow White – Winter Family Musical, is anything to go by, she could be onto a winner.

Snow White takes the time-honoured panto formula and gives it a contemporary shake, adding pop songs by the likes of One Direction and Michael Jackson, and lacing the script with just enough local references and topical jokes for both adults and children.

The costumes and old-school painted backdrops hark back to classic panto, giving the show a nostalgic charm, and look great.

On opening night, the performers quickly involved the audience who entered into the spirit of it with gusto, booing the Wicked Queen, shouting to warn Snow White not to eat the apple, and shrieking during the famous ghost gag.

Lythgoe, who produces and directs, has cast the show cleverly with celebrities and actors who understand the performance style. Magda Szubanski, in particular, is fabulous as the wicked Queen Grismalda, interacting with the audience with quick-smart ease.

Josh Adamson, Peter Everett and Jimmy Rees. Photo: Kurt Sneddon, Blueprint Studios

Josh Adamson, Peter Everett and Jimmy Rees. Photo: Kurt Sneddon, Blueprint Studios

Jimmy Rees (aka Jimmy Giggle from the ABC TV show Giggle & Hoot) also nails it as the hapless jester Muddles, who is hopelessly devoted to Snow White. Both of them pitch their performances perfectly, mining every ounce of comedy without overdoing it.

Newcomer Erin Clare (who was discovered during a national search for an unknown performer to play the role) shines as Snow White, embodying just the kind of fairytale heroine that little children imagine. Peter Everett is endearing as Chambers, loyal courtier and friend to Snow White, Andrew Cutcliffe is suitably dashing as Prince Handsome, and Josh Adamson has the right swagger as Herman the Huntsman. Sir Cliff Richard and Kyle Sandilands lend strong support as the Queen’s (pre-recorded) two-faced mirror.

The seven dwarves are played by children in cartoony heads, straight out of a picture book or animated film, which works surprisingly well.

Erin Clare with the seven dwarves. Photo: Kurt Sneddon, Blueprint Studios

Erin Clare with the seven dwarves. Photo: Kurt Sneddon, Blueprint Studios

Running just over two hours including interval, Snow White does feel a little long at times, particularly the extended ghost gag. The odd nip and tuck wouldn’t hurt. However, the three little girls in front of us, who ranged in age from around three to six, clearly had a wonderful time and hardly a restless moment.

In Lythgoe’s care, Snow White is good old-fashioned entertainment and great fun for all the family. “Oh no it isn’t! Oh YES it is!”

Snow White – Winter Family Musical plays at Sydney’s State Theatre until July 13. Bookings: www.ticketmaster.com.au or 136 100

A version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on July 6

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The Young Tycoons

Eternity Playhouse, May 20

Edmund Lembke-Hogan and Andrew Cutcliffe. Photo: Noni Carroll

Edmund Lembke-Hogan and Andrew Cutcliffe. Photo: Noni Carroll

A smash hit in 2005 and 2006, Darlinghurst Theatre Company is reviving CJ Johnson’s gleefully corrosive satire at its new venue.

Subtitled “a ruthless comedy”, The Young Tycoons is set in 2003 as two aging Australian media moguls start to hand over control of their empires to their sons.

The warring families are fictionalised, of course, but no prizes for guessing who they’re modeled on.

The fathers and their heirs are a study in contrasts. The bullying, potty-mouthed Ted Vogler (Laurence Coy), now focused primarily on television, is a high roller, loves cricket and has a dodgy heart, not helped when his “knucklehead” son Kim (Edmund Lembke-Hogan) loses a billion in a bad investment.

Liam Warburton (John Turnbull), who dominates the nation’s newspapers, is cool, pragmatic and US-based, while his suave son Trevor (Andrew Cutcliffe) is Ivy League educated.

Then there are the son’s girlfriends (Paige Gardiner and Gabrielle Scawthorn), a business journo from an opposition broadsheet (James Lugton) who has them in his sights, Liam’s long-serving, right-hand-man Donald (Terry Serio), and Kim’s personal assistant/press secretary (Briallen Clarke).

It’s a world where wives are picked as if part of a business deal – though the women in the play are no pushovers.

Johnson’s script unfolds over numerous short scenes not unlike a TV drama but director Michael Pigott keeps things moving snappily on Katja Handt’s excellent, sparse set with its curving plywood wall, helped by Murray Jackson’s jazzy music.

The writing is robust with plenty of laughs. Act I takes a little time to hit its stride but the play ramps up in Act II when there is more punchy drama between the characters.

Johnson decided not to update the play but has added a few new references (Grange, Barangaroo), while a punch-up was apparently included just days before the James Packer-David Gyngell street brawl.

Lembke-Hogan is outstanding as the pugnacious, not-so-smart Kim, revealing flickers of self-doubt as he tries to assert himself with blinkered, puppy-dog impulsiveness. Serio is also excellent as the veteran newspaperman who finds himself becoming collateral damage, while Turnbull and Coy contrast each other nicely as the two rival media barons. But all the cast are terrific and deserve praise.

Johnson doesn’t depart too far from reality so there are few real surprises, particularly since this era has been much picked over of late on TV. However, the play plugs into Australia’s continuing fascination with its business heavyweights offering an entertaining, fly-on-the-wall look at the lives of the filthy rich and very powerful.

The Young Tycoons runs until June 15. Bookings: 02 8356 9987 or www.darlinghursttheatre.com

A version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on May 25