Theatre review - Snow White at Manchester Opera House

Craig Revel Horwood as The Wicked Queen
Photo: Phil Tragen

Craig Revel Horwood as The Wicked Queen Photo: Phil Tragen - Credit: Archant

Riotous, rip-roaring fun that gives laugh-a-minute a new reality, the panto at Manchester Opera House is a 5 star success

Craig Revel Horwood (Wicked Queen) & Joshua St Clair (Prince Harry)
Photo: Phil Tragen

Craig Revel Horwood (Wicked Queen) & Joshua St Clair (Prince Harry) Photo: Phil Tragen - Credit: Archant

It's panto season! Oh yes it is! The pantomime is a uniquely British phenomenon that taps into our love of slapstick, double-entendre, drag, one-liners and general mayhem and this season's presentation from Manchester Opera House - Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - delivers all this and more, giving families the very best possible start to the festive season and New Year.

There is a stellar cast - and not only in terms of names, but in sheer brilliance in their roles. Craig Revel Horwood is revelation as The Wicked Queen, Snow White's terrible aunt, who overthrew her father, the King, and usurped the thrown. He is the Mr Nasty you expect him to be, of course, but also has the most wonderful relationship with Muddles (Ben Nickless) and Dame Nora Crumble (Eric Potts) making their shared scenes simply stomach-crampingly hilarious. Seriously, if your children (and you) aren't doubled over by their marvellous Twelve Days of Christmas routine there's something very wrong!

His nastiness is pitched just right - we don't want him scaring the little ones, and it's hard to take him seriously as a wicked woman when he's pressing Prince Harry's face to his chest and declaring their love to be eternal. His Wicked Queen is more 'woman on the edge' (of menopause) driven to extreme lengths by her sudden (literally overnight) removal from position one on the list of the land's most beautiful women than truly evil. He's on stage a lot, which is helped by his height (6' 5" in his heels, apparently) and his marvellous costumes. He belts out some big songs in grand style, struts, sneers and throws in Strictly references and one-liners with every other breath. He's always been on my list of fantasy dinner party guests, but now he'll have to share his chair with this character, as I adore her.

Ben Nickless has to be the nation's best Muddles/Buttons/cheeky panto-sidekick ever. He holds the attention of every child for every moment he's on stage. His timing is perfect, his interaction with the audience a treat. Bringing small children on stage is always a risk, but with Nickless you just know it's all going to go hilariously well. Put him in partnership with Eric Potts, possibly the best pantomime Dame we'll ever see, and it's a sure-fire recipe for success.

Ben Nickless (Muddles) & Craig Revel Horwood (Wicked Queen)
Photo: Phil Tragen

Ben Nickless (Muddles) & Craig Revel Horwood (Wicked Queen) Photo: Phil Tragen - Credit: Archant

The romantic duo of Snow White (Zoe George) and Prince Harry (Joshua St Clair) have a lot to do just to maintain a stage presence when faced with this trio, but they hold up their end superbly. George makes a lovely princess - one that's recognisable to children raised on Disney - a little bit sweet and a little bit steel. St Clair is an excellent Prince, too. His scenes with the Wicked Queen are brilliantly done and he manages not to be overwhelmed by Revel Horwood's larger-than-life character, which can't be easy.

Finally - the seven dwarfs. I could have done with seeing more of these. A septuplet of Mancunians giving it large is a brilliant idea, but their time on stage was short (as were they, of course) and afterwards my boy was a bit concerned about the state of their knees… Wait till you see, and all will become clear.

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There are many incidences where things seemed to go wrong last night - curtains fall, wigs drop off, real names are used - and the audience just collectively cries with laughter at the cast's struggles to keep in character, but it's hard to know how much was planned and how much genuinely went wrong. Whatever, I hope you see it too, it's just another perfect way of tapping into the stuff we all find funny.

To be honest, I could keep telling you about hilarious scenes or side-splitting gags, but all the way you're reading this you're not booking your tickets - and that's something I can't recommend enough.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is at the Opera House until December 29th.