Rhodes unveils their panto's closely guarded secret
This year's pantomime at Rhodes Arts Complex, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, opens tonight - and the production's most closely guarded secret was finally unveiled this week.
The dwarfs – Jennifer, Julian, Jock, Joe, Big Jim, Giuseppe and JuJu – will not be played by actors but will instead be puppets.
“Right up until now we’ve been avoiding saying what it is we’re doing with the dwarfs,” Rhodes’ artistic producer and panto director Phil Dale said on Monday. “It’s a bit of a secret. We haven’t got any pictures of them in the programme.”
Phil is a pantomime veteran – this will be his seventh at Rhodes and he worked on several at Harlow Playhouse previously – but this will be the first time he has worked on Snow White.
“There have always been like five big pantos that I’ve always done in rotation: Dick Whittington, Robin Hood, Cinderella, Aladdin and Jack and the Beanstalk,” he said.
But Snow White presented a challenge: how should the dwarfs be done?
Phil explained: “You either hire in actual short actors – that’s expensive and we don’t tend to have the sort of budget that allows that kind of thing – or you use children and you put them in beards or little hats.
“We’ve got children that probably would be good enough to do that, but actually you’ve got to find 14 really good kids because they can’t do all of the shows.”
The inspiration for the puppets came to him during last year’s Rhodes panto production of Cinderella.
He had 13 white mice made for the show which proved to be a big hit with the audience, and he felt this could be the solution to the dwarf dilemma.
He said: “It kind of took me back to watching The Muppet Show when I was a kid, and just remembering that whole idea of seeing humans interact with puppets.”
Phil wanted the puppeteers to be hidden from the audience, so the set was designed specifically to enable actors to interact with the puppets.
“The thing is with panto, it’s supposed to be magical, it’s supposed to be real. And going back to the Muppets, I always go back to that idea of they’re real – you don’t ever see their legs.”
The dwarfs will share the spotlight with Snow White, played by Abbie Middleton-Evans, 20, who began drama classes at the age of seven.
“My mum actually teaches drama, singing and dance, so I’ve sort of been brought up into it,” she explained.
The former Birchwood High School student now works at Tesco at Bishop’s Park as its community champion.
“I do all the charity work for them and work with different community groups, which is fun. I get to meet loads of different people, so I enjoy it,” Abbie said.
Abbie has worked with Phil before, in 2014, when she took on the starring role in Rhodes’ production of West Side Story. “I played Maria in that,” she said. “That was the first proper musical piece I’d done where it was a full performance.”
This year will be the first time that Abbie has had a leading role in a pantomime.
“I’ve never gone for a principal role,” she said. “I’ve always just been one of the dancers so it’s different for me taking on a lead role. But I’m working with such great people.”
In the next few weeks, Abbie will have a full-on schedule, flitting between her job at Tesco and her starring role as Snow White.
She said: “It’s going to be hectic, but it’s going to be worth it, because when you get on stage you don’t really care about anything else. Especially when the kids are watching, they get so into it, and they love the magic of it.”
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs opens at Rhodes tonight (Dec 9) and will run until Saturday, January 6.