Matthew Gormley on this year’s festive extravaganza at Manchester Opera House
Following my preview of this year’s festive extravaganza being staged at the Manchester Opera House, I felt transported back to my childhood at Christmas time when I went along to Snow White and the Seven Dwarves on Wednesday evening, and although I wasn’t disappointed, it didn’t quite match the efforts of previous years gone by.
From the moment when the audience entered the auditorium, timeless Christmas tunes were blasting out of the speakers as the audience took to their seats, before cameras made their way around the audience and unsuspecting members of the public appeared on a screen in the middle of the excessively glittered curtain cloth, complete with amusing captions around their heads. Yes, the fun began before the curtain was even raised, and the youngsters were already loving every single second of it.
Despite a technical hitch which meant that the spectators could not hear the opening monologue from the Magic Mirror, once the show was in full swing, it had all the ingredients of a good old-fashioned panto: corny gags, booing, hissing, singing and dancing, although not as much of the latter two as I would have liked.
Priscilla Presley was, without a doubt, the name selling the tickets this year, but her performance as the Wicked Queen was a little flat; she failed to understand some of the humour, and sometimes gave the impression that she just did not get this glorious British tradition. Of course, she could not have gone through the whole show without throwing in a number from late husband Elvis, and although his 1958 hit Trouble is perfect for her character, her performance lacked both passion and enthusiasm, and it was far too obvious that she was miming, which for live entertainment of this kind is very poor.
Natalie Andreou makes a stunning Snow White, and her vast West End experience shines through. Her handsome prince comes in the form of former Brookside star Phillip Oliver, who, when he first arrived on stage, joked that it was “a bit of a gamble” having a Scouser on stage in Manchester, but effortlessly masks his Liverpudlian twang in favour of talking posh. As her one true love, he charms not only Snow White, but all of the mums in the audience, resulting in a hilarious heckle from a lady in the stalls when he gives Snow White the kiss of life. You could not script it.
Legendary screen actor Warwick Davis heads up the seven dwarves as Prof, leading them through the crowd in a triumphant sing-a-long of ‘Hi Ho, Hi Ho’, much to the delight of the children. The dwarves may have slightly different names to the traditional ones, but they all have their own little gimmicks and command the stage from their moment they appear. A talent show performance from one of them in particular is not to be missed.
As predicted, Tam Ryan is once again the real star of the show, despite having to play second fiddle to the major stars in the cast. This is Tam’s fifth consecutive festive season on the Opera House stage, and when you watch him it’s clear to see why he is invited back year after year. He, once again, has the audience eating out of the palm of his hand, with fast-packed gags and relevant one-liners that mock events of the year gone by. Tam is drastically underused in this year’s production, with his character of Muddles having very little part to play in the plot. He’s a true master of his game, without whom the show would be much less enjoyable.
Completing the cast are Daniel Stockton, who also provides many tongue-in-cheek comical moments as the Henchman, and an extremely talented ensemble who bring the musical numbers to life. Sadly, the songs in this show are few and far between, which makes for a slow pace at times.
All in all, this is a festive treat that all the family can enjoy. Get yourself down to the Manchester Opera House this Christmas and support traditional British theatre.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves runs until Sunday 4 January. Performance times vary.