Town panto is wonderful family fun

A verse of Nessun Dorma by Puccini is not what you expect when you take your family to the pantomime.

But the words from the opera, meaning None Shall Sleep, 10 minutes into Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs at the Hawth in Crawley were when I woke up to the fun of this excellent pantomime.

Sung by Snow White's sidekick Muddles, acted by Gareth Oliver, and Muddles' mum Nurse Gertie, played by Jonathan D Ellis, it was a demonstration of singing at its best.

The pretense of a serious tone soon changed, however, and a hilarious, colourfully dressed Muddles was refreshingly restrained in his use of audience participation as his role normally demands.

As always the juiciest parts were the wicked and the witty rather than the serious and serene of top billing Simon James Cole as Prince Harry of Hollyoaks and Kellie Shirley as Princess Snow White.

Both actors are best known for TV fame, in the case of Simon as Jez Peterson in Hollyoaks and Kellie as Carly Wicks in Eastenders and one suspects both are better suited to the serious side of their craft than the comedy.

That said they held their own ably, both allowing themselves to be led by the heavier weight of the acting team, namely Nurse Gertie and a superb Andree Bernard as Snow White's wicked stepmother.

Queen Lacretia's serious-come-evil role obviously delighted the versatile Andree and the actress was supreme as a sometimes wheeling-dealing, sometimes sexy high-kicking and always nasty queen who bore, with continual surprise disappointment, the news from Paul O'Grady's Magic Mirror that she was certainly NOT the fairest of them all.

My children, who have reached that pre-teens age when they know far more than I do about just about everything (Oh, no you don't! Oh, yes we do!) thought this was one of the best shows they had seen and that after seeing Andrew Lloyd-Webber's fabulous Cats at the Hawth two weeks before.

Best of all they loved Muddles, and I had to agree with them, and interestingly, they were bowled over by the actor's ventriloquism with his puppet monkey.

Although I date myself by admitting I remember Ray Alan with Lord Charles, Tich and Quackers, I suspect my children have never seen a ventriloquist perform and they were amazed.

One particular sketch was hilarious when Gareth's monkey floated up into the air as if lifted by the balloon in his mouth, added to, for adults only, with a particularly risque joke, which went straight over the children's heads.

With a demour Forest Fairy played charmingly by Louise English, and a deep-throated and exceptionally tall for "a woman" Nurse Gertie, delightful forest animals and dwarfs played by local theatre school children this was a thoroughly enjoyable Christmas treat for all the family.

Last year the Hawth's Christmas show was Peter Pan with Tracey Beaker actress Dani Harmer and it was heart-warming and truly enjoyable. This year's show is just the ticket, too, for seasonal cheer and lots of laughter when the nights are at their longest and the chill air is beginning to turn up the temperature of this globally warmed world.

Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs at the Hawth, Crawley, runs until Sunday, January 6. Box Office on (01293) 553636.