The Snow Queen: The Footlights Pantomime
TOMMY SHANE has had a crisis of faith in his previous reverence for the Footlights after this not-so-awe-inspiring pantomime.
Excepting the uniquely brilliant The Boys In The Band, the 2011 Footlights Panto was the best show I saw last year.
The wealth and depth of talent in that true ensemble blew me away: Jeff Carpenter’s side-splitting lyrics combined with the vocal and comedic talent in a show that earned its instant sell-out run.
It therefore wasn’t surprising that the Panto this year, The Snow Queen, sold out equally as quickly, and had the same end of term, Bridgemas, Footlights buzz in the air. The production made good use of its extremely high budget, with fake snow and smoke filling the stage, along with admirably inventive use of projection, props and set changes.
I also can’t fault the performances. Rosa Robson had such command on the stage, and I know she, just like George Potts and Lucie Shorthouse, will be someone I will really miss seeing on a Cambridge stage. Emma Powell also produced the goods with some singing tekkers I haven’t seen her showcase before, and a silliness that combined with timing and delivery to satiate the audience’s appetite for some premature Christmas fun.
But, ultimately, this pantomime just didn’t live up to its automatic hype. Other than the opening and final numbers, there was only one, two or three actors on stage at a time. Often Harry Michell was on the stage by himself for far too long, preventing the sense of scale and ensemble that a pantomime should be characterised by.
When Michell went off on an Eddie Izzard-esque French ramble about an imaginary cat he invents and accidentally kills, he was really at the top of his game. But most of the time, with the tiresome and crass audience participation, his presence was overdrawn, and occasionally indulgent. Poor old Isaac, a ‘volunteer’ from the front row, had his face and hair covered in cream and sauce. I felt so sorry for him. He’d suffered for what Michell called ‘the greater good’, but it just wasn’t that funny; it wasn’t even clear what we were supposed to be laughing at.
This was symptomatic of a show that felt a lot like a school production, with cheap laughs, bizarrely irrelevant jokes about UCAS application guides, and far too many “he’s behind you”s. Granted, the Newnham Explorer Scouts sat beside me in full uniform were loving it, but that’s because they were about fourteen.
The plot, in which the Snow Queen had to assemble a mirror of evilness, was simply abandoned after finding one shard of the mirror. ‘Brrr, it’s cold in here, there must be some Snow Queen in the atmosphere’ was a line that epitomised some of the slap dash writing. The Footlights Pantomime assembles the best of present and past comedic talent at Cambridge: jokes should be actually funny, not ironically crap. Insulting Oxford and playing up to Cambridge students’ intelligence is just lazy and safe writing, jokes we’ve heard so many times. And most tellingly, while several of Jeff Carpenter’s songs from last year’s pantomime still stick in my mind, none do from last night.
I did have a good time, the audience were laughing, and it was all a bit of fun. But last year the Panto was more than that: it was a stunning spectacle, and instilled in me the sense of privilege at being at a university where I could see such a production.
This year I got a distinct feeling like being excited about a Christmas present, opening it, and being crushed when it wasn’t what you hoped for. Sure, it’s still a present, but it kind of ruined Christmas.
Now obviously I’m not saying The Snow Queen ruined my Christmas. But I do feel like the pantomimes should earn their reputation of being a Footlights production, should earn their automatic sell-out runs, should earn their price tags which are double a usual show. And while I’ll spend the rest of term cowering in fear of angry Footlights, I can only be honest: this pantomime failed to do that.