STAGE REVIEW: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - at the Festival Theatre, Malvern, from Thursday, December 13 to Sunday, January 6, 2019.

NOW you know that Christmas is really about to burst upon us.

’Tis the season to be jolly with opportunities to see Santa in schools, stores and elsewhere, visits to heritage steam railway lines offering special festive rides, and there’s also the many special celebratory services in our churches to ensure we remember the real meaning of Christmas.

And, of course, it’s also time for pantomimes… Oh yes it is!

Over the years Malvern’s Festival Theatre has built up a deserved reputation for the fun its pantos dish out for children and adults alike, and Snow White is no exception. Possibly it has even surpassed all that has gone before.

It’s a truly traditional offering with a host of side dishes in terms of colourful costumes, a lively up-to-date script, a first rate cast - all of whom can deliver a song, and it’s also the chance for everyone in the audience to let their hair down booing the villain, cheering the hero and having oodles of chortling with the panto dame and her manic son.

Starring the much-loved and ever zany Su Pollard as the Wicked Queen and Mark James as Muddles, who isn’t slow in reminding the audience he is a ‘Buttons’ reincarnation, his role last year.

So well received and popular was he 12 months ago he is back by popular demand and delivering again. High energy and a bundle of happiness.

In certain aspects he and Su P almost dominate the proceedings as both have such great stage presence, but they are more often than not matched by the others - Philip Meeks’ Nurse Dolly, a formidable sight and frame of a panto dame, who is top notch and whose costumes become more extravagant and colourful each time she reappears.

All were in sensational form as was Francesca McKean as the heroine Princess, and Aidan Banyard as the Knight. Stong performances from both to match their quality singing, especially in the duets.

It all lifts off from the first curtain as the ensemble deliver a lively and energetic Mr Blue Sky, the Electric Light Orchestra’s hit of yesteryear, which sets the standard of what is to come.

Take a bow here the musicians - Nathan Jarvis (keyboards), Mark Cooper (bass) and Esme Ireson (drums/percussion) whose talents added to the joy of the songs, including the traditional offerings such as Whistle While You Work and Heigh-Ho.

The seven dwarfs also get plenty of opportunity to impress. Among their ranks are several who have appeared in a number of television series and major film hits including the Harry Potter series.

Craig Salisbury, who plays Grouch, also appeared alongside Vanessa Redgrave in his latest film Anonymous, while Belgian-born Stijn Keuleers, it has been claimed, could be the first non-native English-speaking dwarf to play Pop. His regular day job is that of a telecoms engineer.

Plenty of highlights and as much laughter as the doctor ordered and the body could take!

It’s often said three is a crowd and this was partially proved during one hilarious scene when four members of the cast - the dame, her son, the prince and one of the dwarfs, ran through a bizarre version of The 12 Days Of Christmas.

This saw considerable confusion among the group, a bundle of loo rolls flying around the stalls, chased by Muddles, and then an inadvertent ‘accident’ when someone trod on Dolly’s bra made for three, ripped it asunder, and suddenly it was for two!

All concluded with the attack of the water guns. So powerful even those up in the circle couldn’t avoid being hit.

It was outrageous at times with insults about Worcester, comments about Brexit, and jokes for the kids while the rest of the humour was spiced with innuendo and double entendres that passed over young heads but appreciated by parents and grandparents.

Pantos don’t really come much better than this. Truly a treat for all the family.