Greenwich Theatre pantomime eschews a dame in favour of a dragged-up villain and a cast of puppets
I‘m delighted to find Anthony Spargo walking when he arrives for our interview.
But the intervening months have been kind and there’s a distinct bounce in his gait as he strides into the Arcola – the Dalston venue where rehearsals are being held for this year’s pantomime.
For 2023, writer and actor Anthony has penned a version of Snow White, set to run at Greenwich Theatre from November 23 until January 7, 2024.
It’s the second work he’s written for the venue, following on from Robin Hood last year, but his 12th as the villain, who this year doubles as the dame.
“It’s a bit like the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella, where there’s no dame character,” said Anthony.
“I knew I was playing the Evil Queen and I did write an early version with a dame as the queen’s beautician and Snow White’s nanny, but I was struggling with the material.
“The problem was when Snow White escapes to the wood, the nanny doesn’t have anything to do.
“So instead it’ll be me dragging-up and encompassing both roles in a single part.
“It’s the same team as last year – ‘Uncle’ Steve Marwick as musical director, James Haddrell directing and me – and we decided to tackle Snow White because none of us could remember the theatre putting it on before and we wanted to have a female-focused story after Robin Hood.
“Next year, who knows – maybe the hero will be a trans person. Pantomime has always been a bit gender-neutral – guys dressing as dames and women dressing as male heroes.”
Also returning alongside Anthony will be Martin Johnson as Herman The Huntsman (previously Friar Tuck) and Louise Cielecki as Muddles (formerly Mutley).
Other lead roles are taken by Katie Tomkinson as Snow White, Tom Bales as Prince Charming and DeeArna McLean as the Magic Mirror.
“When writing a show, you take the essence of the story and use that as a kind of chassis – a foundation,” said Anthony.
“But it wouldn’t be a Greenwich panto without a nice twist. There are stand-out plot points and, if I went to see a version that didn’t have some of them, I would be disappointed – so we’ve got the poisoned apple, and the dwarves are obviously in there.
“Then there’s the queen ordering the huntsman to kill Snow White, and he can’t quite bring himself to do it – so the big iconic moments are present.
“In fact, Act One is pretty packed with story, story, story. It moves fast, with lots to set up – the stories of all the characters, for example, which is a panto staple.
“As an audience member though, you could be forgiven for thinking that pretty much all of the story is wrapped up by the interval – that’s where the twist comes in.
“In Act Two you can get away with having a bit of fun and silly surprises – taking people to places they least expect and climaxing in the destruction of the villain.
“In Sleeping Beauty we went to the moon and in Robinson Crusoe we went to the Wild West.
“This year we’re not travelling to different destinations, but I don’t want to give too much away – you’ll just have to come and see.”
Anthony said the thrill and unpredictability of the show was the main draw, with people able to step outside their lives for a few hours and revel in some proper, carefully crafted nonsense.
“With any show, it’s escapism – a chance to get away from whatever’s going on in the world and let it go,” he said.
“People should come to have fun and be a kid again – shouting out at the villain and cheering the goodies.
“The first read-through is when I get to hear it out loud.
“What I secretly love, is the way a whole gang of people take the inane, stupid, silly nonsense that I have written, completely seriously, and have the most intense and serious conversations about the most stupid things.
“For example, there have been lengthy discussions about how a machine that sticks labels on boxes in this year’s show works, even though it doesn’t actually have to really operate at any point on stage.
“One of the joys of working with a brilliant cast is that while I might have written the lines, other actors may come up with stuff I hadn’t even thought of and deliver it in a way I hadn’t expected.
“When that happens, it’s amazing.
“The dwarves in the story will be played by the cast, our two ensemble members and stage management using puppets and we have a couple of really lovely sequences with them because you can’t do Snow White without that.
“We’ll also be bringing back the revolve on stage this year so we can change scene.
“We have a great new designer – Emily Bestow – who’s been absolutely brilliant.
“Last year it was realism in Sherwood Forest, but this year it feels like we’re back in panto-land. It’s bright, colourful and there’s loud glitter everywhere.
“As for next year, we have started to have conversations about it but haven’t decided what it will be yet.
“With this one I started getting ideas for it while performing Robin Hood and then began writing the show in January last year.
“You start off setting out a plot scene-by-scene and things slowly start merging and coming together.
“I’d love to do Peter Pan again, because selfishly I’d like to play Captain Hook.
“We did it about eight years ago and it’s a great show – audiences love it, there’s flying and also, THERE’S NO BETTER VILLAIN IN PANTO.”
…must resist. Ok, fine. OH YES THERE IS… (suggestions on a postcard to email@example.com)
- Tickets for Snow White cost £33 (£16.50 concessions), with performances running Tuesday-Sunday at various times.
- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via firstname.lastname@example.org