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.
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.
Copyright of The Press, York
See the latest Grand Opera House pantomime trailer here: https://youtu.be/VlrxLhF09so