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Snow White and the vampires

Paul Xuereb reviews this year’s panto at the Manoel Theatre by Masquerade.

Malcolm Galea is becoming one of the busiest persons in Maltese theatre. Not only is he a leading light in Dingle Bells at St James Cavalier, but more importantly he has written the script for Masquerade’s 2012 panto, The Curse of Snow White, a script that is notable for his determination to ring as many changes as possible on the Snow White tale.

Franco Debono, I am glad to say, gets lampooned quite mercilessly, and politicians on the whole do not have an easy time

His main innovation is to bring to what is already a genre aimed largely for a young audience, another genre made famous by authors like Stephanie Meyer – a genre that is very popular with the young, that of the vampire who is much more of a romantic figure than a horrifying one.

Indeed, Galea has defied tradition by replacing Prince Charming with the lord of a vampire clan, by name Sir (ahem) Castic (Andre Agius).

The Seven Dwarves, who are basically little more than part of the scenery, since we only see them stationary, are reduced to a minor and, quite frankly, uninteresting role. It is the vampires, all sexy and good-looking, led by Sir Castic, who play a great role in defeating the wicked stepmother. Queen Narcissa is an amusing but formidable incarnation of evil.

I suspect that this panto, directed with customary skill by Anthony Bezzina, will appeal to older children much more than to the six-year-olds, and adults will surely find it very funny. Franco Debono, I am glad to say, gets lampooned quite mercilessly, and politicians on the whole do not have an easy time.

Children of all ages, however, will feast their eyes on the very colourful sets and gorgeous costumes (even the female vampires sometimes wear striking reds) and the merry or frantic dancing of vampires and town girls.

They will also love the way in which Colin Fitz’s dame, Miss O’Mlee, interviews them during their big moment on stage with him, for surely apart from being comical, he must be the gentlest dame with the kids I can remember.

Fitz grows in comical stature as the show develops, and those who see the panto tonight will doubtlessly find him much more confident from the word go than he was on the second night when I watched the show.

In his long series of marvellously grotesque costumes with their impressive boobs, he is a memorable sight. It is difficult not to root for him, and not to rejoice when he gets a fabulously happy ending. What no doubt he will go for now is to increase the formidable element in the dame’s personality.

The baddies in panto have often been my favourites, and I must admit that Katherine Brown, looking a little like a portrait of Elizabeth I, is the character I enjoyed watching most. Her frequent shifts from fierce disapproval of others’ acts to a hypocritical and most artificial laugh, her super-worship of her own ego seen most strongly in her dialogues with Steve Hili’s hunky and malicious Spirit of the Mirror, and, garbed as a hooded old hag, her clever tricking of Snow White into eating the poisoned apple... all these make her a magnetic figure, laughable but always faintly sinister.

Rachel Fabri’s sweet Snow White, who agrees to become a vampire because of her love for the romantic Sir Castic, is a very fine singer who nearly brought the house down with her big number in Act Two. Good singing was also produced by Joseph Zammit as a bewigged Muddles, a character whose personality does not quite develop, and by Louis Cassar as Snow White’s ridiculous but affectionate father, King Swazzlestick III (pronounced ‘turd’, of course, this being panto) with his big bass-baritone.

Rebecca Camilleri’s Lady Oracle (is Galea an admirer of Margaret Atwood?) is not quite a panto character, more disturbing than funny, but she plays an important role in the defeat of the wicked Narcissa.

This was very good panto wine when I drank it, but like all good wines, it will undoubtedly be even better with every performance.

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