Ann Widdecombe is evidently a convert to the “prolonged frivolity” she enjoyed while competing on Strictly Come Dancing last year. She is back in sequins, feathers and ra-ra skirts this winter in deepest, darkest Dartford. The former Tory minister is now a pantomime dame, performing as Widdy-in-waiting to her ex-Strictly judge Craig Revel Horwood’s wicked Queen Lucretia (from Bromley)- his third successive year in the role.
Horwood is a joy. He clatters onstage in his stilettos, like a Rottweiler trussed up spandex (but with an enviable female figure) spitting: “Hello peasants”. He arrives after what seems like the longest of panto intros – children singing and dancing sweetly, the appearance of a rather screechy but endearing Snow White (Shinead Byrne) and some crowd-rousing by manservant Muddles (Nick Weir). Horwood first appears on a chariot pulled by a bare-chested boy in bondage gear named Randy, bringing with him all the best lines and, of course, Widdy.
Widdecombe is barely recognisable in a curly red wig as Horwood’s decrepit old foil. He asks her “Am I still beautiful?” To which a wooden Widdy replies (too quickly): “You’re old and you dress like a woman half your age.” Adding: “Oh and you’re fat as well.” Widdy’s delivery of her lines lacked the verbal command she demonstrated in Parliament.
She trots along beside Horwood like a loyal puppy, occasionally making jokes about Nick Clegg. She gets her biggest laugh when Horwood demands she go off and do something “disgustingly hideous,” to which comes the reply: “Fine, I’ll go and join the Liberal Democrats”. Director Tudor Davies limits Widdy’s musical contribution to one song, which is probably because she is barely audible. But Widdy and Horwood have a couple of dancing numbers, during one of which he hurls her across the floor (taking tips from John Sergeant?) like a sack of potatoes, which is very funny.
Horwood’s musical numbers are a revelation, particularly his Beyonce-esque bottom wiggling during a rendition of “Venus”. As the production goes on Horwood seems ever more in his element, while Widdy seems pleased it is all nearly over. The story has been completely bent to focus primarily on the Queen at the expense of the rest of the tale which is, frankly, a good thing. The less we see of the seven dwarfs (children in creepy masks with even creepier pre-recorded voices) the better. I thought the show lacked oomph whenever Horwood was offstage, but the kids in the stalls screamed till their lungs were bursting throughout.