Manchester Opera House
6 December 2019 - 29 December 2019; 2 hours 20, including interval
So, Greater Manchester’s biggest pantomime is certainly its best – it’s a four-star family fun-fest that touches virtually all bases. It’s got a generous star turn from Strictly judge Craig Revel Horwood; a classic dame from legend in his own lunchtime Eric Potts; a strong comedy performance from local lad Ben Nickless and an appropriately feisty Snow White from Zoe George.
Add a hunky Prince (Joshua St Clair) and some pretty exciting special effects in the form of the magic mirror and a particularly impressive dragon that flies out over the stalls and, what more could you possibly want?
Oh yes, the Dwarfs. Well, there’s been controversy over the years about the Little People in pantomime and I’m not about to enter into the political correctness or otherwise. Here they are played by seven strapping chaps who otherwise form the dancing chorus for the rest of the show. But as Dwarfs they do a Shrek - as in that musical, performing on their knees (it must be excruciating) in costumes that have dummy legs that make it look as if they are standing up. It’s a great illusion - one of the show’s highlights.
Back to Horwood. He can sing, belting out several numbers, including the climactic (careful) gay anthem My Way and he undoubtedly has stage presence (how tall is he?) as anyone who saw his recent Strictly appearance in drag can testify.
The script here is more than a little awkward for him, as he has to try to persuade (not very seriously) that he’s evil (past Strictly competitors might think he really is) and then join the fun and frolics.
There are a few gender fluid moments (particularly when he strips the Prince) that seem awkward, but he does bridge the gap pretty successfully and has some gorgeous frocks. Craig, was the stunning walk-down creation a Julian Clary cast-off?
I liked Ben Nickless much more this year than last, because the script here doesn’t depend as much on his club act, good as this obviously is. There is just enough of him this time to prove how good he is - confirmed by his treatment of the kids in the song sheet.
Then there’s Eric, the Dame, for years an Oldham Coliseum favourite, as well as a chorus of kids, a sharp band and an overall swift and technically assured big-theatre production. What’s not to like?