Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs opened at Darlington Hippodrome at the weekend. PETER BARRON was in good company when he sat in the audience…

In my book, the true test of a pantomime is whether it appeals not just to children but adults too.

So, being sandwiched between my seven-year-old granddaughter and my 92-year-old mum was the perfect position from which to cast judgement on Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, at Darlington Hippodrome.

And, given that it was hard to tell who made the biggest noise, and displayed the most excitement, throughout the fun-packed show, it’s safe to say that this year’s Darlington panto is a sure-fire hit.

There may be 85 years between them but my theatre companions cheered, booed, shouted and laughed as loudly as each other – and it was a joy to see.

The show features Pop Idol star Gareth Gates as the handsome prince; Jenny Ryan, from The Chase, as the evil Queen Dragonella; Josh Benson as Muddles; Marina Lawrence-Mahrra as Snow White; and Jamie Jones as Mrs Nelly Nightnurse.

From start to finish, it’s a delight – unrelentingly funny, cheeky, and visually spectacular – with Josh Benson brilliantly holding it all together as a tireless ball of comic energy who would make the Duracell Bunny look like a layabout.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

It doesn’t matter how old you are, we all like fart jokes, and the tone is set early on with Nelly asking Muddles: “How dare you fart before the Prince?”

“I didn’t know it was his turn,” comes the reply.

While Muddles provides lashings of light relief, Jenny Ryan quickly gets on the wrong side of the audience. Indeed, Queen Dragonella is just as intimidating as her álter ago, The Vixen, on the telly, as she launches into a Chase-style quiz:

Why don’t owls mate in the rain?” she asks.

It’s too wet to woo!” replies Muddles.

And, so, the grilling goes on, with other quiz questions including: How did Captain Hook die? He scratched his bum with the wrong hand! And what’s the difference between snowmen and snow-women? Snowballs!

You get the picture – naughty but nice – with both the 92-year-old and seven-year-old in fits of giggles.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

Later, there’s a hilarious dance-off between Muddles and Prince Gareth, with the audience asked to be the judging panel. When the biggest cheer signals Muddles as the winner, he takes pity on Prince Gareth and declares it a draw.

“We can’t have you coming second again, can we?” he quips, rubbing in the fact that Gareth was famously runner-up to Will Young in the first series of Pop Idol in 2002.

Mind you, Gareth’s more than capable of holding his own, such as the time Muddles gets hit on the finger during a swordfight, and shouts: “Ow, my f-f-f-f-f-finger.”

“He’s worse than me!” the Prince tells the audience, drawing a warm round of applause for the self-deprecating reference to his stutter.

Gareth, who I can confirm is as charming off-stage as he is on it, goes on to inspire lots of ‘Oohs’ from the crowd when he just happens to lose his shirt to reveal a six-pack that’s clearly resulted from dedication in the gym.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

He goes on to remind us of his singing ability with a lovely rendition of Unchained Melody, while Marina Lawrence-Mahraa shows off her considerable vocal talents too as a very sweet Snow White. Along with some fine voices among the ‘Magnificent Seven’ backing cast, the music is uplifting on a dark, December night.

Jamie Jones lets the audience into a secret that – he's really a man – and proves the perfect foil for Muddles.

"My first husband fell down a wish well," announces Nelly, before adding: "I didn't know they worked!"

Darlington and Stockton Times:

The sets are also sumptuously magical, and one of the highlights of the night comes when Muddles flies over the audience on an air-borne motorbike.

Of course, any good panto needs to be littered with local references, and my favourite was the suggestion that the Royal Palace is “what the Darlo indoor market is going to look like when it’s been refurbished”.

That’s probably a fantasy too far, though I resisted the temptation to yell: “Oh, no it isn’t!”

No matter – this is a panto that serves up all the ingredients to do Darlington proud. The pace never drops, so there's no danger of the time dragging, with the writing, cast, and sets combining to provide a thoroughly entertaining night out for all ages.

So, let's cut to The Chase with marks out of 10. The ultra-critical seven-year-old gave it a 9, only because Muddles got muddled up for real at one point and mistakenly called himself Buttons. However, the 92-year-old overlooked that little error and went one better, with a resounding 10.

“One of the best I’ve seen – it was great fun,” my mum declared on the way home.

After all, we're all big kids at heart…