Monday 16th December 2019 at The Grand Theatre and Opera House, York.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs are taking to the stage at the the Grand Opera House York for the festive season this year. Expect plenty of song and dance, a litany of tongue in cheek gags and some great fun-loving silliness.
Louise Henry is a worthy lead and the perkiest of Snow Whites, selling the optimism of the role with all her might. You may think you’ve seen jolly sweeping but think again – not until you’ve seen the infectious glee with which Henry approaches the task you haven’t! Nimble, joyous, canny and comic, this is a Snow White we can love.
Joining our lead? There’s the blundering Nurse Brexit (Steve Wickenden), a character we should see more of, the bestie harbouring a crush in the shape of Muddles (Martin Daniels) and of course the prince (Jonny Muir). Then there’s jealous stepmother and Wicked Queen (Vicki Michelle) and it’s poor old Lord Chancellor of Trumpville (Mark Little) who is tasked with the grisly task of bumping off the fairest lass in the land. Completing the primary gang is the familiar Town Crier (Ben Fry) to generally makes grand pronouncements and causes mischief.
Unfortunately, while there are great strengths in this production, there are also some flaws which can’t be overlooked. The first act gets off to a great start with a perfectly selected and adapted opener from Hairspray but the energy and pizazz fall away as we meet some uneven performances and our lacklustre villains. It’s in the scenes which should have us cowering, hissing and generally wrinkling our noses that the production feels most lacking. We have the evil laugh and we have evil lines but neither are delivered with real force by Michelle and while she generally works the audience well, there’s a sense of forced relish and uncertainty about the performance which is unbefitting for an evil villain.
It’s a gripe not alleviated by the rather muted performance of the unwilling would-be villain (Little) who hams it up only in swishing a cape elaborately rather than going to town on what could be a very funny performance. The audience responds well enough but it’s not a combination inspiring the kind of thrill and/or condemnation of really great panto baddies and their minions.
Highlights in this production include Henry’s infinite enthusiasm as a newcomer in the title role, complete with full wattage smile. This is alongside the lovely seasoned charm of Daniels’ Muddles – a character finally given the airtime he deserves in the second act, leading us in a thoroughly entertaining sing along and a segment of patter with little ones on stage.
The biggest highlight of all for me though is the approach to staging the scenes with the all-important dwarves. The fantastic child cast don over-sized heads and perform along to recorded dialogue, getting big laughs as little people with BIG gestures matching up to quirky audio – complete with elaborate accents. It’s never less than adorable as they hit their cues for choreography and expressively gesticulate and it’s more often than not a source of pure, fun-loving comedy.
Other highlights include the homage paid to classic panto staples from the catchphrases and ghouls to singalongs and slapstick. Alan Miller-Bunford’s torture chamber backdrop set design is a win along with Chris Moreno’s direction of the water gags. Emily Taylor’s sparky choreography is delivered with primly pointed toes and wiggling torsos by the talented team of dancers (Jeremy James, Taylor, Emma Percy and Callum Mills) who bring life to some of the stunted scenes in Act 1.
Songs are admittedly a little sparse at first but MD Aaron Nice leads us in some great musical moments later which are a welcome boost – combine The Proclaimers with the seven dwarves and I am the Music Man with an audience of enthused youngsters and you’ve got yourself a fun few segments to close the show. The second act certainly goes a very long way in redeeming the show.
This production gets off to a mixed start and does have some underwhelming features but it also promises one of the most bouyant panto leads you could hope to find, a wonderful take on those beloved dwarves and a thoroughly charming clown type in Muddles who brings plenty of joy to the piece. Were the little ones shouting their hearts out and singing along? Absolutely – it may not be a thoroughbred hit but it certainly entertains those for whom dear whacky panto is made!
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs plays the Grand Opera House, York until January 4th 2020 and you can find tickets here.
Images: David Harrison.