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Yorkshire Times
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Andrew Liddle
Features Writer
3:00 PM 17th December 2019

A Grand Panto

‘Ohhhhhh René!’

No she didn’t quite say it but came close on a number of occasions and made other allusions to the long-running 1980s’ television series ’Allo, ’Allo, in which she starred as the saucy French waitress, Yvette. No doubt the dads in the audience were willing Vicki Michelle to come out with it again but It would have been pushing it a bit to work it into Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – at the York Grand Opera House.

It is not easy to find her cast as wicked, reprising the witch’s role she played a decade ago at Hull New Theatre, when we all know she is anything but. Super trouper that she is Vicki threw herself into the part and, in singing the great Lieber and Stoller song I’m Evil, revealed an excellent voice. Throughout she revelled in being that panto favourite, the grande dame of conniption, laughingly demoniacally at her own iniquity, winding the kids up to near hysteria.

The nearest we got to the famous catchphrase was ‘Oh Rudy’, addressed to Prince Rudolph, of noble mien and mobile and lean, as well as of remarkably good voice. In this imaginative take on the well-known story he is – disappointingly – deprived of the pleasure of delivering the liberating kiss. A surprise late arrival does the job instead.

Snow White is a bright young thing with raven hair and a powerful singing voice, as portrayed by Louise Henry, making a most auspicious professional debut, who charms all who fall under her (benign) spell, including of course the seven wee fellows, cutely burlesqued by a troupe of local children with voice-overs. They make a spectacular entrance to their mine by train, and their diddy playhouse that Snow White takes refuge in, clearly delighted the kids.

Much of the traditional knockabout fun is provided by a trio of palace bavarders. Contrary to his name, Muddles, the jolly japester in panto whose origins stretch way back to the Mediaeval jester, is actually as sharp as a tack, as brought to us by Martin Daniels, a master of the one-liner, the malaprop, the quick-fire repartee. Perfect for the role, Martin, one of the great all-rounders in showbiz, has clearly inherited not only the flowing tongue of his late father, Paul Daniels, but also his ability to perform magic. One of the great delights of the evening was to see him ad-libbing with the three children invited on stage, looking after their feelings and bringing them out of themselves. (I noticed, commendably, a conspicuous absence. When the girl gave her age, Martin did not ask in the time-honoured way if she was married yet - which always draws laughs but frequently embarrasses her.) Let’s hope he’s back next year for the third time.

Steve Wickenden, no stranger to the Grand’s pantos, once again donned the flouncy frock, a succession of them, in fact, as the game dame, Nurse Brexit, tottering around on high heels, under big hair, always popping up when most expected. Bursting into song about her absence of underwear brought a metaphorical blush to the adults taken by surprise but obviously tickled pink the youngsters. Mark Little plays with aplomb and a bit of a plum in his mouth the Queen’s oleaginous understrapper, the Lord Chancellor of Trumpville. We laugh at his sycophancy on the strict understanding he is not cut out to do the Queen’s dastardly deeds. That does not stop the youngsters going into paroxysms of pretend fear and terror when, dagger in hand, he approaches Snow White.

With a strong chorus, the brightest of ever-changing backdrops, lots of topical Brexit banter and squirty water-pistols, a surprise celebrity playing the all-knowing mirror and some choice tunes, this is traditional panto at its vibrant best. Much credit must go to director, Chris Moreno, choreographer Emily Taylor, lighting designer, Magnus Leslie and, not least, the musicians, directed by Aaron Nice, for giving us a night to remember.

In the week that John Bercow launched his career as a panto ex-speaker with a one-word catchphrase, it is not difficult to predict that people will still be begging Vicki to intone ‘Ohhhhhh René!’ long after he has been exposed as a one-trick phoney!

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is at the Grand Opera House, York, until 4th January, 2020.