Once in a lifetime opportunity! Grand Opera House offers £5 student tickets for musical

Alex Hill, left, Beth Scott, Jami Richards and Laura Castle with £5 student tickets for Once The Musical at the Grand Opera House. Picture: David Harrison

THE Grand Opera House, York, is teaming up with City of York Council to offer anyone aged 26 and under £5 tickets for the Broadway and West End show Once The Musical.

Running from February 3 to 8, the show is based on the 2007 Irish indie hit film, telling the uplifting yet yearning story of two lost souls – a Dublin street busker and a Czech musician – who unexpectedly fall in love.

Charting their relationship across five short days, big changes happen to both of them in little ways in this romantic musical drama. Celebrated for its original score, including the Academy Award-winning song Falling Slowly, Once is a spell-binding story of hopes and dreams.

Directed  by Peter Rowe, with musical direction by regular accomplice Ben Goddard, Once The Musical has embarked on its first major British tour after Broadway and West End productions, leading to a Grammy for Best Musical Theatre Album, eight Tony Awards and an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music.

To book £5 tickets, go to atgtickets.com/sho…/once/grand-opera-house-york/ Code: ONCE5. Proof of age must be shown when collecting tickets.

REVIEW: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Grand Opera House, York

The Seven Dwarfs and Muddles (Martin Daniels, right) attend to the poison apple-drugged Snow White (Louise Henry) in the Grand Opera House pantomime. Picture: David Harrison.

Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Grand Opera House, York, until January 4 2020. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york.

THIS is Three Bears Productions’ fourth Grand Opera House pantomime, written, directed and co-produced by Chris Moreno, a canny veteran of commercial theatre.

He has made two significant additions this year, bringing a York flavour to his familiar panto template of a serviceable script and set design. First, “York’s very own” Louise Henry, 22, from Knaresborough, was picked from more than 30 hopefuls for the title role, in a year when she has impressed as Liesl in York Stage Musicals’ The Sound Of Music at the same theatre  and in Rigmarole Theatre Company’s apocalyptic When The Rain Stops Falling last month.

Playing Snow White marks her professional debut, a step up she handles with aplomb and poise, in song, dance and bonding with fellow York panto debutant Jonny Muir’s upstanding Prince Rudolph and the Seven Dwarfs (played by two alternating teams of children, the Magic Mirrors and Magic Apples). Louise Henry will be back, for sure.

The second smart move was to invite one of York’s most familiar voices, Minster FM breakfast show co-host Ben Fry, to reprise his official role as York’s Town Crier, ringing his bell and making proclamations, as he has since May, but this time on stage. “Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah,” he says. “Oh no, oh no, oh no,” comes the audience’s reply without hesitation or invitation.

Fry, spoiler alert, also pops up as the ageing King and has plenty of fun with North Eastern entertainer and magician Martin Daniels’ Muddles in the time-honoured Busy Bee water slapstick scene: one of those moments that can be played off the cuff by two performers tuned into quick thinking.

There is room for more such impromptu outbreaks, in particular for Steve Wickenden’s southern dame, Nurse Brexit, a divisive name but never a divisive character in his fourth Grand Opera House panto. The Brexit joke gets done once and then disappears even more quickly than Boris Johnson hopes to conclude his oven-ready deal.

Last year, after Ken Morley was taken ill in the very first performance of Cinderella, Wickenden turned himself into both Ugly Sisters, a solo double act that was twice the pleasure. This time, by comparison, he is a little underused, although his version of Avenue Q’s I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today is an inspired, unexpected choice, delivered with panache, and his wardrobe is as peachy as ever.

Getting Nurse Brexit done: Steve Wickenden’s dame in: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. Picture: David Harrison.

Rather than topical satirical comment, big names are occasionally dropped in, Laurence Llewelyn Bowen, Donald Trump and Gordon Ramsay, for example. Much of the comedy is rooted in traditional pantomime routines, putdowns and daft one-liners, although Daniels’ Muddles, the show’s very reliable glue in his jester’s hat, has room to roam into adlibs while being the children’s favourite. His magic ingredient is his cheeky nous, but he has magic tricks up his sleeve too.

Daniels and Wickenden have become important to the Grand Opera House panto, continuity being the third factor in establishing the Three Bears brand.

Star names always play their part too. Say ’Allo, ’Allo! to Vicki Michelle as the vampy, vain Wicked Queen Titania (“You can call me Titty,” she says) and comedian and presenter Mark Little, once of Neighbours, now her Australian sidekick in the land of Much Piddling.

Little had been expecting to play the Evil Sorcerer when the cast first gathered for the press launch but he is now billed as Lord Chamberlain of Trumpville, one of those evil, but actually not evil roles that inevitably loses some of his bite. Little and not so larger than life, in other words. That said, his duet of Elvis Presley’s Trouble with Michelle is one of the musical high spots.

Musical director Aaron Nice has chosen the ballads and cheesy pop hits well, from the opening ensemble number Nicest Kids In Town; through the Dwarfs’ signature song, I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), and the Snow White-led Whistle Whistle; to the crowd pleasers, Live While We’re Young and especially Shutup And Dance.

Emily Taylor’s choreography is bright and bubbly, driven by dynamic bursts of movement, amusingly so when the Dwarfs join in. Played in the past by dwarves from the actors’ union, the roles now tend to go to puppets or, as is the case here, children with adult voiceovers and movement to give them character.

Strictly speaking, look out too for a familiar fairy face in the mirror, Debbie McGee, seeking out the fairest in the land, and you can’t say fairer than that.

Charles Hutchinson

Copyright of The Press, York

See the latest Grand Opera House pantomime trailer here: https://youtu.be/VlrxLhF09so

Neighbours’ Mark Little turns evil in York for panto sorcery in Snow White

Mark Little at the press day to launch Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs at the Grand Opera House, York. Picture: David Harrison

MARK Little has to decide on the colour for his pantomime goatee beard when playing the evil Lord Chamberlain in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs at the Grand Opera House, York.

“It was purple two years ago, green last Christmas, maybe black and white this time,” says the ex-pat Australian actor, comedian, writer, television presenter and 2019 Dancing On Ice contestant, who will be appearing in his 15th panto from tomorrow (December 12) to January 4.

After starting out playing the “silly billy” daft lad, he has since settled into the baddie’s role. “You get to an age in pantomime where you become a bit old for the fool, which needs a lot of energy,” says Mark. “I reached a point where I thought, ‘where do I fit in’? Ah, the baddie.”

Now 60, Snow White will be his eighth panto since switching to the dark side. “My villains tend to be crazed rather than evil. Unhinged. More Maggie on acid, than Boris! Unnerving,”  he says.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

“I don’t make my baddies creepy. I call the children ‘stinkers’, and the more I insult them, the more angry they get with me, and they know the more they show dissent, the more I react, but they know that good has to triumph over evil, so I love to hear them booing.

“There’s a lot going on right now to make us want to boo, but theatre is a safe environment to do it. That’s one of the reasons theatre is there for, especially panto, to mock things we don’t agree with, celebrate things we love and reflect on where we’re going.

“So I like to ‘place’ my baddie in that present time. Like Trump not being acceptable, and we have a licence to openly mock that.”

After making his name as Joe Mangel in the Australian soap Neighbours from 1988 to 1991, Mark has lived in Britain for 25 years, 20 of them in Brighton before moving to Wood Green, London, to be close to his grandchildren.

The great cape: A swirling Mark Little in evil Lord Chamberlain mode for Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. Picture: David Harrison.

He has presented The Big Breakfast, appeared regularly on The Wright Stuff and Big Brother’s Bit On The Side and toured his one-man show Defending The Caveman, playing the Grand Opera House in 2007 and York Theatre Royal in 2010. Pantomime has become a fixture on his calendar in Britain, but back in Australia, it is a different story.

“There’s no such thing. Australia doesn’t have theatre in its DNA. Sport, yes, but culture’s put to one side. It’s all sport. You have to have a number on your back! But here in the UK, Brits are going to the theatre from the age of six and playing football. You do both.

“As I was growing up, all our television came over from Britain. It’s not a mystery that I ended up living here because we were brought up on all that culture.”

Gradually Australia sought its identity through film, whereas “even Neighbours took a while for Australia to connect with,” says Mark. “It wasn’t heralded the same way it was over here. It was ‘the show with the sets that wobbled’. But it was celebrated here.”

Neighbours went from being “the soap that no-one noticed in Australia” to,” whoosh, a show that really took off”. Mark arrived in Britain to perform his own comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe just as the first series began to be aired over here, two years behind Australia.

“I wasn’t ready for what happened next. Joe Mangel took over!” he says. “That’s a phenomenon I’ll never recover from. If the Brits get into something they love, they hold on hard and strong. Joe Mangel will live with me forever.

“I ended up presenting The Big Breakfast, having done that type of TV in Australia on Zoo TV, and they thought I could do the same thing here. My style of comedy is fairly crazy, anarchic, plenty of mayhem. People trusted Joe Mangel, so I was ‘Johnny Foreigner taking the mick and mocking British culture’, which they don’t like usually here, but they’d taken to Joe Mangel, so they loved it.

“My comedy suited that Tiswas style, and it’s the kind of show that TV looks like it’s crying out for now.”

Mark Little, left, with his Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs co-stars, Steve Wickenden, Martin Daniels, Louise Henry, Jonny Muir, and Vicki Michelle. Picture: David Harrison

At the time of this interview, Mark was sporting a full beard from a three-week shoot filming the low-budget independent film Passing Through in the South of France. “David Hall, a playwright and theatre director, wrote the part for me,” he says.

“It’s his first feature film, and I play an Australian teacher who’s been in Britain for 25 years and decides to go to the South of France with his new wife, on her new anti-depressants, to try to forge a new life amid the gypsies,” he says.

“But along comes his estranged son to remind him of his old life. All their problems come up and we see if they can be rectified or not.

“It’s not a car-chase film! It’s not chick.lit! It’s a bit old-fashioned in style with an international flavour. It’s taking a cathartic look at a modern relationship, a modern family, in an anti-depressant world, where they’re trying to deal with the past and the present by creating a new future when he has his redundancy money.”

Metaphysical in tone, Passing Through is set at a time “when it’s hard to be happy, and what is happiness anyway?”, says Mark. “It doesn’t come up with schmaltzy answers. My character just thinks we better have some fun making a future.”

By comparison, pantomime is a world of certainty where good will defeat evil, and Mark Little’s grandchildren will enjoy every chance to “boo Pop”.

Mark Little stars in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Grand Opera House, York, from December 12 to January 4 2020. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york

Charles Hutchinson

They sing again, you win again, in Bee Gees’ tribute show at Grand Opera House

The Bee Gees’ hits are Stayin’ Alive in the tribute show You Win Again

YOU Win Again celebrates the music of the Bee Gees in tonight’s tribute concert at the Grand Opera House, York.

Direct from London’s West End, the 7.30pm show takes a journey through Maurice, Barry and Robin Gibb’s music from the Sixties, through the Seventies and Eighties, including hits they wrote for Celine Dion, Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross and Dolly Parton.

This “fabulous authentic production” takes in such Bee Gees’ highs as Night Fever; Stayin’ Alive; More Than A Woman; You Should Be Dancing; How Deep Is Your Love?; Jive Talkin’;Tragedy; Massachusetts; Words; I’ve Got To Get A Message To You; Too Much Heaven; Islands In The Stream; Grease; If I Can’t Have You and many more. Not least the chart-topping 1987 title song, You Win Again.

Tickets are on sale from £25.15 on 0844 871 3024, at atgtickets.com/york or on the door.

Strictly’s strict Craig Revel Horwood to direct Strictly Ballroom

Love is in the air…a year from now in Strictly Ballroom The Musical at the Grand Opera House, York

YOU will have to wait a year, but it will be well worth it to see Strictly Ballroom The Musical, on tour at the Grand Opera House, York.

Directed by acerbic Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood, the show will be foxtrotting around Britain and Ireland from next September, visiting York from November 23 to 28 2020.

Revel Horwood, the Australian-born dancer, choreographer and director, will assemble a cast of more than 20 for the musical based on Baz Luhrmann’s 1992 Australian film.

Strictly Ballroom The Musical follows arrogant, rebellious young ballroom dancer Scott Hastings, whose radical and daring dance style rubs against the strict conventions of the Australian Dance Federation.

So much so that he is banished, forcing him to start all over again with a beginner, Fran. Together they find the courage to defy tradition and discover that to win, your steps don’t need to be strictly ballroom.

More than 30 hits will be performed on stage, such as Time After Time, Let’s Dance, I’m So Excited, Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, Sway, Mambo No. 5, Dancing With Myself, Sugar Sugar, It’s The End Of The World As We Know It, Teardrops and Love Is In The Air.

Strictly Ballroom The Musical premiered at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, in December 2016 before making its West End debut at the Piccadilly Theatre, London, in March 2018.

Tickets for the York run are on sale on 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york.

Charles Hutchinson

A fete worse than death on the way in Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table

The Classic Comedy Theatre Company in Alan Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table, on tour at the Grand Opera House, York, next year. Picture: Pamela Raith

ALAN Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table, the debut production by the Classic Comedy Theatre Company, will play the Grand Opera House, York, from February 10 to 15 next year.

This touring show is produced by impresario Bill Kenwright and his team behind the Agatha Christie, Classic Thriller and Classic Screen To Stage theatre companies for more than 15 years.

Premiered in January 1977, Ten Times Table is “the one with the committee from hell and a fete worse than death”. 

In the long-since grand ballroom of the Swan Hotel, a most miscellaneous assemblage gathers to conduct the business of the Pendon Folk Festival.

A tense moment in the Classic Comedy Theatre Company’s Ten Times Table. Picture: Pamela Raith

Unfortunately for excitable chairman Ray, his calamitous committee quickly divides as his wife, Helen, has a bone to pick.

Add a Marxist schoolteacher, a military dog breeder and an octogenarian secretary, and the table is set for a tumultuous comedy by committee.

In the cast will be Robert Dawes, Deborah Grant, Mark Curry, Robert Duncan, Elizabeth Powers, Gemma Oaten and Craig Glazey.

Tickets are on sale on 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york.

REVIEW: Scrooge The Musical, Pick Me Up Theatre ***

Mark Hird’s Ebenezer Scrooge and Frankie Bounds’ Young Ebenezer in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Scrooge The Musical. Picture: Matthew Kitchen

Scrooge The Musical, Pick Me Up Theatre, Grand Opera House, York, until Sunday, December 1. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york

FOR years and years, Pick Me Up Theatre artistic director Robert Readman has applied for the performing rights for Scrooge The Musical, more in hope than expectation.

This year, at last, the answer was affirmative, and so Readman reckons he must be the first director/producer to stage Leslie Bricusse’s musical on this scale since Bill Kenwright’s long-running tour show.

Those were the days with Tommy Steele in the lead, with songs specially added for his knees-up brand of showmanship, but Readman has restored the 1992 score, when Bricusse transferred his 1970 film musical to the stage as a vehicle for Anthony Newley, six new songs and all. Back come the likes of Good Times, the best in the show, says Readman.

Mark Hird’s Ebenezer Scrooge and Rory Mulvihill’s Ghost of Christmas Present in Scrooge The Musical

Ironically, if anything, there are too many songs, or, more precisely, there are not many memorable songs, making it feel like too many.

This is in part because the dialogue is largely true to Charles Dickens’s novel, save for the occasional modernism, and you wish for rather more of it, but another song is always nudging it out of the way.

While you could not call it a “sung-through musical”, it is veering towards that style, yet the great joy of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol lies in its storytelling and the myriad ways of presenting it, whether James Swanton’s one-man show, Alexander Wright’s pub supper two-hander with audience participation or Deborah McAndrew’s  beautifully resonant adaptation for Hull Truck Theatre.

Readman goes for spectacle, garland upon garland of snowy white flowers decorating the stage; a huge door; a big four-poster bed; loud, very loud, sound effects for Jacob Marley’s entry, rattling chains et al;  echoing voices; a company of more than 40;  and two flying sequences. One for Tony Froud’s Marley; the other for Rory Mulvihill’s Ghost of Christmas Present and Mark Hird’s Ebenezer Scrooge, where they are held in suspense rather more than this ghost story holds us, in the absence of more darkness.

Sonny Love as Tiny Tim in Scrooge The Musical

Hird’s diminutive Scrooge carries the last residue of his wonderful Captain Mainwaring in Pick Me Up’s Dad’s Army, and consequently he is humorous from the start, full of bluster rather than the coldness of a blasted heath. You find yourself liking him, even when he is mithering and being miserly, rather like Rowan Atkinson’s penny-pinching Mr Bean, but Scrooge’s transformation is still highly enjoyable in his impish hands.

What’s more, his scenes with Young Ebenezer (Frankie Bounds) and his lost true love, Isabel (Jennie Wogan), and later with Bob Cratchit (Alan Park), Tiny Tim (Sonny Love) and the Cratchit family, are poignant to the core. Bounds, by the way, is the pick of the young talents, with a lovely singing voice in Happiness, while Olivia Caley, as the Ghost of Christmas Past, definitely has a future.

Look out too for Flo Poskitt’s comic cameo as Ethel Cratchit: not for the first time this year, she gives a peach of a supporting performance. Maybe next year, a director will reward her with an overdue lead.

Mulvihill amuses by lounging like Jacob Rees-Mogg in the House of Commons, in his Christmas green silks and ermine; Sam Johnson leads his musical forces with customary skill, and Iain Harvey and Readman’s choreography has most fun when Andrew Isherwood’s Tom Jenkins leads the stand-out  Thank You Very Much.

Overall, however, while it may feel “Bah Humbug” to say it, by Pick Me Up standards, this Scrooge  falls short of a Christmas cracker.

Charles Hutchinson  

Louise is just right for Snow White in first professional role

Royal appointment: Louise Henry as Princess Snow White in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs at the Grand Opera House, York. Picture by David Harrison.

LOUISE Henry will swap flat whites for Snow White next week after being picked to lead the Grand Opera House pantomime cast in York.

Louise, 22, from Knaresborough, works at the Hoxton North café bar in Royal Parade, Harrogate, but will join rehearsals for Three Bears Productions’ Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs from Monday (December 2) for the December 13 to January 4 2020 run.

After playing Liesl von Trapp in York Stage Musicals’ The Sound Of Music at the Cumberland Street theatre, now she will star as Princess Snow White alongside Mark Little’s villainous Lord Chamberlain, regular dame Steve Wickenden’s Nurse Brexit, ’Allo, ’Allo! star Vicki Michelle’s Wicked Queen and Martin Daniels’ Muddles.

From producer Chris Moreno’s search for a local principal girl in Three Bears’ fourth Opera House panto, Louise was among 30 invited from the many applicants for a day’s auditions in May.

After queueing in the rain in the line of Snow White hopefuls that formed along the stage door wall, she won through to the shortlist of 12 for the afternoon’ s second session and was then picked for panto principal girl after a nervous wait.

Meet the Grand Opera House pantomime cast: Mark Little, left, Steve Wickenden, Martin Daniels, Louise Henry, Jonny Muir, and Vicki Michelle. Picture by David Harrison.

“The auditions were on the Wednesday, and they rang me just as I was setting off to work on the Friday afternoon,” Louise recalls. “I’d been refreshing my emails, hoping for news, and it was such a euphoric moment when the phone call came.      

“I’m so thankful to have been chosen. I’ve been beaming whenever I’m reminded that I’m signing my first professional contract. I’m really looking forward to getting into the theatre and putting the show together. Performing is all I have ever wanted to do and I feel so lucky that my Christmas this year will be doing just that.”

Although Louise has not studied at drama school since leaving school, “I’ve had acting and singing lessons for as long as I can remember and I’ve done lots of theatre work, like school plays when I was at King James’s in Knaresborough,” she says.

“From the age of nine to 17, I went to the ACTAcademy in Harrogate, run by Kelly Creates, when we took part in the Harrogate Festival of Speech and Drama and did The Big T talent show at Harrogate Theatre, and I’ve had singing tuition with Jacqueline Bell in Wetherby too.”

Louise impressed in Nik Briggs’s April production of The Sound Of Music, playing the eldest von Trapp daughter, Liesl. “I was 21 playing 16, and the next in age to me was 12, playing 15!” she says. “It’s such a nice show to do because it’s so honest, and it was sad when it came to an end as we all made such good friends.

Welcome to York: Louise Henry, from Knaresborough, is pictured by Clifford’s Tower after landing the role of Snow White in the Grand Opera House pantomime. Picture: David Harrison

“It was lovely to be able to become familiar with the Grand Opera House stage too before doing the panto.”

Since The Sound Of Music, Louise has appeared in two more York shows, the first being another Nik Briggs production, Joseph McNeice and Matthew Spalding’s new musical comedy, Twilight Robbery, at 41 Monkgate in May.

“I played Jane, the daughter, who’s 40 years old, so I went from one extreme, 16-year-old Liesl, to another…and now I’ll be playing Snow White!”

The nearest she has come to playing her own age was her most recent role, a young Australian woman, Gabrielle York, in Rigmarole Theatre Company’s debut production, Andrew Bovell’s apocalyptic family drama When The Rain Stops Falling, at 41 Monkgate in November.

Louise Henry, right, playing Gabrielle York in Rigmarole Theatre Company’s When The Rain Stops Falling earlier this month. Picture: Michael J Oakes

Now her focus turns to her professional bow, billed as “York’s very own Louise Henry” in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs.

“I’ve done one panto before, Aladdin, an amateur one for the Pannal Players when I was maybe 14,” says Louise,

Looking forward to starting rehearsals on Monday, she says: “This opportunity is what I’ve been waiting for, and I’ve just got to have faith in my abilities.

“Snow White is on stage for most of the time, so I’ll always need to react in the moment, and that’s something that will add to my repertoire of skills, which I’m always working on.”

Imagine how Louise feels as the first night approaches, knowing she is taking on the title role in a star-laden show. “I know! It’s my show! How crazy is that!” she says. “When I rang my sister to tell her I’d got the part, she didn’t believe it…and when I rang my mum, I had to say, ‘no, I’m not kidding’. That was a really fantastic day!”

Louise Henry stars in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Grand Opera House, York, December 13 to January 4 2020. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york.

Charles Hutchinson

Discover the wicked side of ‘Allo, ‘Allo! star Vicki Michelle

“I make her a bit of fun to play with,” says Vicki Michelle of her role as the Wicked Queen in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. Picture: David Harrison

‘ALLO, ‘Allo! sitcom star Vicki Michelle will spend her winter being booed at the Grand Opera House, York, even on her birthday.

Fondly remembered for a decade of waitress service as French dish Yvette Carte-Blanche in the BBC wartime comedy from 1982 to 1992, she will play the Wicked Queen in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs from December 12 to January 4 2020.

Her 69th birthday falls on December 14 as she settles into the Three Bears Productions’ pantomime run in a role she knows only too well. “I’ve done lots of wicked queens,” says Vicki, in full regal attire at the panto launch.

“I haven’t counted, but it’s probably 30 years now [in fact Snow White will be 27th panto]. I love it, because panto is magical for children, their parents and their grandparents, and it’s a genre where you think, ‘thank you, we still have this each year’…with people really believing in what they see on stage!”

Vicki relishes the audience interplay. “I’ll stamp my feet, I’ll react to them standing up to the Wicked Queen, not in a comical way, but I make her a bit of fun to play with,” she says

“I have to be evil ­- and the Wicked Queen is truly evil – but l love doing it. I just love performing. The audience have paid to see the show, they want to see you giving 200 per cent, and I know I’m working with people who can do that.”

Commercial pantomimes are never slow to remind audiences of their stars’ biggest successes. “Probably there’ll be a few lines about ‘Allo, ‘Allo!,” says Vicki, knowingly. “I was in this amazing series that’s still shown on TV and has been sold to 80 countries. South Africa. Bulgaria. Romania. Lithuania. Sweden…”

Even Germany? “The Germans said they would never buy it, but they did!” says Vicki with glee. “How amazing is that! ‘Allo, ‘Allo! Is still funny. It makes you laugh out loud and there aren’t many comedies that do that today.

“That’s the mark of good comedy: if they can make you laugh out loud. That should be revered.”

David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd’s long-running comedy, set in Rene’s Café in a German-occupied small French town, was recorded live to audiences of 200 to 300. “The laugh would come on the second line and grow on the third line. That’s what worked. Like in panto: audiences want the old jokes. I want the old jokes!” says Vicki. “But a lot of shows try to change things, and they don’t work.”

Louise Henry, left, Jonny Muir, Steve Wickenden, Vicki Michelle, martin Daniels and Mark Little in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs at the Grand Opera House, York. Picture: David Harrison.

‘Allo, ‘Allo! gave Vicki the chance to say hello, hello to plenty more work. “It didn’t spoil things, because afterwards you’re typecast,” she says. “What I did was loads of theatre: playing Miss Hannigan in Annie; Salad Days; Miss Mona in The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas; Don’t Dress For Dinner; loads of Ray Cooney farces.”

You can add to that list Lady Bracknell in The Importance Of Being Earnest, a 2008 tour of ‘Allo, ‘Allo! and more television too, from playing Patricia Foster in the Yorkshire soap Emmerdale to competing in Celebrity Master Chef in 2009 and heading into the Aussie jungle for the 2014 series of I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here!.

Vicki returns to the Grand Opera House after earlier appearances as Jacqueline in Marc Camoletti’s boulevard comedy Don’t Dress For Dinner and, in June this year, the humorous three-hander Hormonal Housewives, a no-holds barred romp through the joys of being a fabulous 21st century woman.

The tour schedule left room for only two days off in a 68-show run, but Vicki loved the script and ended up delighted she said yes to the invitation to join Hormonal Housewives co-writer Julie Coombe and Josephine Partridge on the road.

“It went fabulously well, doing a show, then a four to five-hour drive, but the show was such a joy to be in,” she says. “I’d never heard such howls of laughter.”

There was another benefit from Hormonal Housewives too. “People would come up afterwards and say they’d lost someone, and this was the first show they’d come out to since then as they wanted some laughter,” reveals Vicki.

Returning to York for a wicked winter in pantoland, Vicki has plans for Christmas Day. “I want to get home for Christmas, which is always at my place; three sisters and their families,” says the Essex-born actress, who has Snow White performances on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day either side of that family celebration. “Christmas morning is always something sparkly and a salmon and a smoked cheese bagel.”

What may 2020 bring Vicki? “There are a few things that are bubbling under, but first I’ve got this panto to enjoy,” she says.

Vicki Michelle stars in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Grand Opera House, York, December 12 to January 4 2020. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/York

Charles Hutchinson

Did you know?

Vicki Michelle calls herself “Vix Mix” on her social media.

INTERVIEW: Al Murray has the last word on Brexit….but not yet!

“You just think, ‘Come on, make a decision’,” says Al Murray as Brexit lumbers on and on and on

COMEDIANS had been strangely reluctant to discuss Brexit, seemingly for fear of alienating half an audience. Three years in, however, and no nearer to finding a fixit, they are joining the rest of a divided nation in frustration at Mission Implausible.

If one comedian were guaranteed to lose his rag over Brexit Britain, it would be the garrulous Guvnor, bellicose pub landlord Al Murray.

His July show at Pocklington’s Platform Festival had been billed as the “last hurrah” for his Landlord Of Hope And Glory tour, but Brexit is the wanted/unwanted gift that keeps giving.

So, here we all are, post-October 31 impasse, rain sodden and shivering as we go to the polls in darkest December, Boris and Jezza fighting to be the next Guvnor, and Murray’s bilious bulldog still barking his take on Brexit on his autumn travels that stop off at the Grand Opera House, York on November 18.

A comedian seeks to be side-splittingly funny; now Murray is having to deal with split sides. “That’s the interesting thing: they really are split, and you can’t predict how people will be on each night,” says Al, who conducts his interviews as the real Al Murray, satirical comedian, TV presenter, author and military history documentary maker.

What you have to do is burrow down into ‘Who are we?’; ‘What does this say about us?’, and that’s the thing you then mine for comedy,” says Al Murray, defining the comic craft.

“There are people who still care about it, with everything that’s going on in parliament, but the rest are fed up. Who could imagine people being frustrated with politicians promising things that couldn’t be delivered?!”

Given the Little Englander persona of Murray’s larger and louder-than-life caricature, you might expect him to line up with Boris/Farage/No Deal/Brexit Means Brexit, but Murray thinks as much as the Guvnor drinks, and so Landlord Of Hope And Glory does not take the path of least resistance.

“You write the kernel of a show a couple of months before going out on the road, so that was  back in March and April, when it looked like we might go No Deal, and you just think, ‘Come on, make a decision’.

“But whatever way you voted, you have no say in what’s been happening, and as a comic, you’re thinking, ‘How can I find a fresh angle on this?’.

“You don’t want to sound like anyone else, so the conclusion to the show came to me pretty early on, but for the show to merge together perfectly, it took 20 gigs to get to that point.”

Social and political satire requires exaggeration to lampoon its targets, and yet the Westminster and Brussels playgrounds keep surpassing such comic imagination.

“People talk about that a lot: that there’s this problem for comics being outflanked by the behaviour of our politicians, so what you have to do is burrow down into ‘Who are we?’; ‘What does this say about us?’, and that’s the thing you then mine for comedy,” says Al.

Preparing for a dressing down: Satirist Al Murray in the dressing room with The Pub Landlord’s garb

“Get Brexit Done/Not Done” may exasperate many, but Murray is revelling in picking at its bones. “The idea that this thing was going to go on forever didn’t have bite in April, but it does now. It routs us – and I’m rather pleased about that.

“Brexit is now being paraded full bore at the centre of our national debate, yet people were telling me a decade ago that the Pub Landlord’s anti-European stance was outdated!”

Murray is not predicting an end to Brexit deliberations any time soon. “I think we’re going to go back out with this show next spring, when it still won’t be over.

“The reality is, you will never find anything to satisfy everyone, so you just have to balance it,” he suggests. “Is there a way out of this mess? The Pub Landlord thinks so: the whole of Europe goes on the pound and the EU changes its name to Great Britain!”

Is Brexit a step backwards or forwards for Britain, Mr Murray? “The thing is, I haven’t heard yet how it’s a step forward. I’m open to whatever ‘Brexit’ is, but you get the feeling a lot of people don’t know what it is, or that people won’t like it, whatever it is.”

Al Murray: Landlord Of Hope And Glory, Grand Opera House, York, Monday, November 18, 7.30pm. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/York

By Charles Hutchinson

Copyright of The Press, York