Preview: Manipulate Festival 2016

A Feast for the Senses

As the acclaimed Manipulate Festival of visual theatre and puppetry prepares for its ninth edition, Mark Brown spoke to its director Simon Hart

Akhe - Gobo #1 Arina Nagimova
Gobo by Akhe. Photo: Arina Nagimova

For a nation of just five million people Scotland punches well above its weight when it comes to the international theatre and performance scene. Of course, we boast the biggest arts festival on the planet, in the shape of the Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe, but there’s plenty going on beyond the great jamboree in August.

The perennial first footer of the Scottish festival year is Manipulate, the impressive programme of visual theatre and puppetry which is held annually in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, before wending its way to venues in Norwich and London. Now moving into its ninth year, the festival, which is presented by Puppet Animation Scotland, showcases the kind of imaginative and metaphorical performance that is part of the theatrical mainstream on continental Europe, but is still considered somewhat leftfield here in the UK.

“It’s partly to do with the heritage of British theatre”, says Manipulate director Simon Hart. “We’re very focused around the text.

“Britain has the heritage of world class playwrights, from Shakespeare right up to David Greig. British actors and directors, even as they’re going through drama school, encounter a certain way of approaching theatre.

“On the continent they bring different art forms together much more in their theatre making.”

The consequence of this cross-disciplinary approach to performance in Europe is the kind of beautiful, humorous, often perplexing work staged by the likes of Russian company Akhe, who have been regular visitors to the Edinburgh Fringe and Glasgow’s recently closed arts venue The Arches. Indeed, the controversial demise of the Glasgow venue (which, alongside Summerhall in Edinburgh, was Scotland’s premier centre for this sort of work) puts an even greater onus on Manipulate.

“That’s where our role as Puppet Animation Scotland really kicks in”, Hart suggests. “The festival is about bringing the best international work we can find, but equally important is providing a platform for Scottish artists and their work.”

This year that platform includes a series of performances that go under the heading of “snapshots”. Free, but ticketed, events, these 40-minute performances feature substantial excerpts from works-in-progress by Scotland-based artists such as Al Seed and Judith Milligan, Laura Cameron-Lewis and Shona Reppe, and Royal Conservatoire of Scotland graduate Laura Wooff.

Hart shares the general dismay about the fate of The Arches, but is hugely encouraged by the continued flourishing of visual theatre in Scotland. “I think the strength is there. The most encouraging thing is that, despite the closure of The Arches, artists are desperate to present their work and they are finding other ways to do it.”

In addition to the artists performing at this year’s Manipulate, the director mentions the likes of Vox Motus theatre company and Glasgow-based Singaporean artist Ramesh Meyyappan as theatre makers who are taking visual theatre forward in Scotland. He might have added to that list Company of Wolves, which models itself on the philosophy and techniques of the Polish theatre master Jerzy Grotowski.

Hart also sees the techniques of visual theatre finding their way into the work of Scotland’s mainstream theatres: “If you take someone like Dominic Hill [artistic director of the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow], he’s always looking for ways to bring in these art forms.”

All of which points to a thriving of the visual imagination in Scottish theatre and performance, with the Manipulate Festival at the very heart of things.

The Manipulate Festival is at the Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, January 29-31 and the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, January 31 to February 6. For further information, visit: manipulatefestival.org

 

FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS

Gobo. Digital Glossary

Saturday February 6, 7.30pm, Traverse Theatre

Akhe, the “Russian engineering theatre” company from St Petersburg, led by the extraordinary duo of Maksim Isaev and Pavel Semchenko, create charming, hilarious, intricate, occasionally sinister and always gorgeously stylised alternative worlds. Mr Carmen, which they brought to Manipulate last year, is a glorious carnival of cultural allusion, visual imagination and mechanical mayhem. This year’s offering, Gobo, 17 sketches from the life of an anti-hero, promises to be every bit as captivating and surreal.

 

Torn

Friday February 5, 7.30pm, Traverse Theatre

Young, Scottish visual theatre company Faux Theatre combine physical performance, kinetic art and an original musical score to evoke one woman’s internal world. By turns humorous and soberingly poignant, it employs paper and household objects in a delicate, carefully considered visual aesthetic. Acclaimed performer Francisca Morton plays the woman, with Foley (artificial sound) artist and composer Barney Strachan evoking her aural world.

 

Macbeth: Without Words

Tuesday February 2, 9pm, Traverse Theatre

Otherworldly stage imagery and make up combine with advanced visual technologies (projected video-mappings and animations), a disconcerting and premonitory soundscape and a DJ set in this wordless evocation of Shakespeare’s Scottish play. Created by Edinburgh-based company Ludens Ensemble and its director Phillipos Phillipou, the piece is supported by Pafos 2017: European Capital of Culture in Cyprus, where it will be played next year.

 

LoopsEnd

Tuesday February 2, 7.30pm, Traverse Theatre

UK-based American aerial artists Paper Doll Militia attempt to bring the visual imagination of Tim Burton into the theatre. Paradoxically ethereal-yet-robust, LoopsEnd is a work of visual metaphor that evokes the psychological and material realities of human relations. At times beautiful and intimate, at others disquieting, bordering on violent, it is the kind of highly original work Manipulate exists to present.

This preview was originally published in the Sunday Herald on January 24, 2016

© Mark Brown

Review: The Weir, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh (Daily Telegraph)

THEATRE

THE WEIR

ROYAL LYCEUM, EDINBURGH

Review by Mark Brown

The Weir
Lucianne McEvoy as Valerie and Frank McCusker as Finbar in The Weir. Photo: Drew Farrell

They like a good Irish play at the Lyceum. This time last year they were staging a justifiably acclaimed production of Faith Healer by the late, great Brian Friel. They begin 2016 with a fine staging of The Weir, Conor McPherson’s highly original modern classic.

Ever since it premiered at the Royal Court in London in 1997 this strangely affecting piece has been insinuating its way into the minds and emotions of audiences. Set in a pub in the rural northwest of the Irish Republic, the play appears, at first, to be little more than four local men trying to impress Valerie, a young woman newly moved over from Dublin, with provincial ghost stories.

Nonetheless, McPherson’s narrative has an ace up its sleeve; and one which should not be revealed out of respect to those who do not yet know the play. Suffice it to say that the writing shows a keen and humane understanding of memory, grief and human psychology.

There is more to the success of the piece than its emotive shift in subject matter, however. As director Amanda Gaughan’s beautifully measured production attests, the writing, which is, by turns, gorgeously comic and unexpectedly poignant, has a tremendous sense of structure and rhythm.

A good production of The Weir, and this is one, carries one along, seemingly effortlessly, like a boat on calm waters. This requires actors who understand the shape and cadences of McPherson’s script.

Gaughan’s all-Irish cast have such a grasp on the play from beginning to end. Gary Lydon’s Jack, for example, exhibits an underlying decency in the rough-mannered car mechanic; even when he remarks, sarcastically, of well-to-do local hotelier Finbar that he could “peel a banana in his pocket”.

There are equally impressive performances from Darragh Kelly (as unassuming labourer Jim), Brian Gleeson (young bar owner Brendan), Frank McCusker (Finbar) and, crucially, Lucianne McEvoy (a powerfully sympathetic Valerie). The production is framed memorably by designer Francis O’Connor’s ingeniously, and subtly, transformative set, which shows us the rain swept exterior of the pub, before switching back to its ornately patterned walls.

This is a strong production with which to begin the second half of the Lyceum’s mainly superb 50th-anniversary season. Acclaimed playwright David Greig seems set to inherit a company in fine shape when takes over as artistic director at this famous playhouse later this year.

Until February 6. For further information, visit: lyceum.org.uk

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on January 20, 2016

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/theatre/what-to-see/the-weir-edinburgh-lyceum-review-emotive-and-memorable/

© Mark Brown

Review: Toumani Diabate with the RSNO and Trio da Kali

MUSIC

TOUMANI DIABATE WITH THE ROYAL SCOTTISH NATIONAL ORCHESTRA AND TRIO DA KALI

ROYAL CONCERT HALL, GLASGOW

Review by Mark Brown

Toumani and Sidiki Diabaté
Toumani Diabate with his son Sidiki

Legendary Malian musician Toumani Diabate is to the kora (the West African harp) what the late Ravi Shankar was to the sitar; that is to say, the instrument’s greatest player of modern times. Little wonder, then, that this concert turned out to be an early highlight of Glasgow’s superb, annual music festival, Celtic Connections.

A show of three parts began with a set by the excellent West African group Trio Da Kali. The trio brings together the balafon (the centuries old West African xylophone), a traditional bass guitar and the human voice.

That voice belongs to Hawa Kasse Mady Diabate (no relation), a singer of such power and range that one almost wished that her microphone would fail in order that we could hear her sing, as it were, “in the raw”.

The trio provided an excellent introduction to the concert’s main attraction, namely Diabate and his band (including his son Sidiki on second kora) playing music from the Malian master’s album Mande Variations alongside the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO).

The RSNO musicians wore a splash of red, so as, one assumes, not to appear too drab beside the African players in their splendid, colourful attire. There was nothing drab about the orchestral arrangements with which they accompanied Diabate’s gorgeous kora playing, however.

The orchestra provided Diabate’s playing with, by turns, a subtle echo and an almost symphonic intensification. Whatever the Mande Variations lost in intimacy they gained in richness.

A nod to Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for the Spaghetti Western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, in which Diabate plucked the memorable opening bars on his kora, was as unexpected as it was humorous. The decision to add to Sidiki’s kora an occasional synthesised twang was a kitschy disappointment.

The final section of the show, in which Diabate returned with his own band, included the sobering composition Lampedusa. An achingly beautiful piece for two koras, it remembers the 350 African souls who perished in their attempt to reach the titular Italian island in October 2013.

This poignant tune did not come before the band had the audience on its feet with a rousing jam. A series of brilliant solos were woven through the compositions that emerged from Diabate’s famous collaboration with the late father of modern Malian music Ali Farka Touré.

The Celtic Connections festival continues until January 31. For further information visit: celticconnections.com

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on January 18, 2016

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/music/what-to-listen-to/toumani-diabate-with-rsno-and-trio-da-kali-royal-concert-hall-gl/

© Mark Brown

Preview: The Weir, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh (Sunday Herald)

A right good blether

Conor McPherson’s acclaimed play The Weir is being staged by Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum theatre. Mark Brown talked to director Amanda Gaughan

The Weir rehearsals
The Weir in rehearsal

 

Conor McPherson’s The Weir, a play about people talking in a rural pub in the northwest of the Irish Republic, is one of the most successful Irish plays of the last 20 years. A night of conversation between four local men (publican Brendan and three local barflies) and Valerie (a Dublin woman, recently moved into the area), it seems an unlikely blockbuster.

Yet the drama has met with critical and audience acclaim ever since it premiered at the Royal Court theatre in London in 1997. On the face of it, the play is merely the telling of tall tales, but, as Amanda Gaughan, director of the new production at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum, observes, there’s something special going on in the writing.

Having never seen the play on stage, Gaughan read it as one of a number under consideration for the Lyceum’s 50th anniversary season. She was looking, she explains, for a play with “visceral” impact.

“I totally had that gut reaction to it”, she remembers. “I got to the end of the play and was asking myself, ‘how did I get here?’ It’s just so simple. It’s beautifully written and the characters are so recognisable.”

Anyone who knows The Weir will recognise Gaughan’s sense of the play insinuating its way, almost by stealth, into ones psyche and emotions. Critics often describe the piece as “unassuming” or “modest”, whilst acknowledging its great psychological and emotional impact.

“It is just people talking and telling stories, it’s very Celtic that way”, says Gaughan. “You think it’s just going to be ghost stories, but, actually, there’s a real generosity and humanity in the play.”

Gaughan, herself a Scot with family roots in Donegal, uses the word “Celtic” precisely. Scotland is, she believes, a perfect country in which to stage McPherson’s play.

“We [the Scots and the Irish] all like a good blether”, she laughs. “That’s one thing that we share. We do like to tell stories.”

There’s no doubting McPherson’s capacity for storytelling, and for crafting characters who know how to tell them. However, there’s more to the success of the play than that.

The Weir is a drama of beautiful structure and rhythm; there is even an academic paper, by Kevin Kerrane, entitled ‘The Structural Elegance Of Conor McPherson’s The Weir’. Elegance is right. If the actors and the director have captured the rhythm of the writing, the play will take you along gently, like a boat on a calm sea.

“In rehearsals we know when we don’t hit the rhythm right”, Gaughan agrees. “You know when you’ve dropped the ball, because you can feel it.”

The culmination of the play’s writing (which is simultaneously comic, contemplative, muscular and poetic) and its elegant, rhythmical structure is a paradox. It’s a big stage play with the intimacy of a small pub in rural Ireland.

“The play does creep up on you”, says the director. “It’s almost subliminal, the way it does that.

“We’re trying to capture something of that in the stage, lighting and sound design. The design team is working both to bring out the epicness of the play and to make people who are sitting in the upper circle feel like they are in someone’s living room.

“In the play, Jack [the local mechanic] says, ‘it’s been a strange little evening for me.’ If we do the production right, members of the audience should feel that way, too.”

The Weir runs at the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh until February 6. For more information, visit: lyceum.org.uk

This preview was originally published in the Sunday Herald on January 17, 2016

© Mark Brown

Preview: Scottish theatre, 2016

Home of the bravo

In 2016 Scottish theatre celebrates a major anniversary and offers exciting productions of new plays and great classics, writes Mark Brown

Lanark#
Lanark by David Greig

2016 may well prove to be an auspicious year for Scottish theatre. In the coming 12 months the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) will celebrate its 10th anniversary and acclaimed dramatist David Greig will take the reins at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh. Further to that, Scotland’s women’s theatre company Stellar Quines will appoint a new artistic director, as its award-winning and longstanding director Muriel Romanes steps down.

In the Hebrides, the much respected director and actor Alasdair McCrone will return to the helm of Mull Theatre. McCrone, who was unceremoniously removed by the discredited, and now departed, board of Mull arts organisation Comar, has been reinstated thanks to an excellent grassroots community campaign.

The theatregoer looking for further reasons to be cheerful might add the promise of the programme at the Citizens Theatre, under the continued directorship of the excellent Dominic Hill, and the second programme of Edinburgh International Festival director Fergus Linehan.

Every silver lining has a cloud, of course, and both the NTS, which is funded directly by the Scottish Government, and many theatre companies that are funded by arts quango Creative Scotland will be hit by finance minister John Swinney’s almost £20 million cut to the 2016-17 arts budget. The impact of funding cuts will be compounded for many theatre companies by the uncertainty that is engendered by the opaque and inflexible decision making processes of Creative Scotland, which often lead to perverse and perplexing outcomes.

Whatever the difficulties faced by our theatre makers, however, few would deny that Scotland is blessed with a diverse and accomplished theatre culture. Over the last decade, the NTS, with its distinctive (and influential) model as a self-proclaimed “theatre without walls” (working, from administrative headquarters in Glasgow, without a theatre building of its own), has come to exemplify much of that culture.

The company’s first artistic director Vicky Featherstone deserves considerable praise for her profound understanding of the ecology of Scottish theatre. Her successor Laurie Sansom has continued with programming that combines the touring of bespoke productions to the community venues of the Highlands and Islands with larger scale works for the city stages.

The quality of the work has, inevitably, varied, but the success of the NTS as a new model national theatre is beyond doubt. Indeed, one cannot imagine the National Theatre of Wales (established in 2010) without the example of the NTS.

In this anniversary year, it is correct that the NTS should revive past successes; even if I am one of those who consider Rona Munro’s opinion-splitting James Plays (which tour the UK, Australia and New Zealand, February to July) to be a cause for mourning, rather than celebration. The revival of David Greig’s beautiful The Strange Undoing Of Prudencia Hart (a clever and emotive tribute to the border ballad, which tours the US and Scotland, February to June) is less divisive.

Much of the NTS’s best work has been made in co-production with others. It is appropriate, therefore, that the intriguing programme of new plays in 2016 includes the collaborative I Am Thomas, a self-defined “wildly comic and provocative piece of music theatre” about Thomas Aikenhead, the last person to be executed for blasphemy in Britain (in 1696).

The work of celebrated poet Simon Armitage, acclaimed English theatre company Told by an Idiot, the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh and the NTS, it tours England and Scotland February to April.

The Lyceum, under outgoing artistic director Mark Thomson, has enjoyed an incredibly fertile period over the last 18 months or so. Exceptional productions of Beckett’s Waiting For Godot, Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle and Faith Healer, by the late, great Irish playwright Brian Friel, typify a rich vein of form.

Thomson seems determined to go out on a high. Between now and June we are promised such riches as Lyceum associate artist John Dove’s staging of Arthur Miller’s great political allegory The Crucible (February 18 to March 19), Chris Hannan’s adaptation of The Iliad (directed by Thomson, April 20 to May 14) and Makar Liz Lochhead’s new bio-play Thon Man Molière (May 20 to June 11).

If David Greig seems set to inherit a Lyceum that is in rude health, acclaimed Citizens Theatre director Dominic Hill is unlikely to be outdone. An exciting new season at the Glasgow theatre includes productions of Beckett’s Endgame (directed by Hill, February 4-20) and This Restless House, outstanding playwright Zinnie Harris’s new trilogy based upon The Oresteia by Aeschylus (also directed by Hill, and co-produced with the NTS,  April 15 to May 15).

As if that wasn’t enough, the Edinburgh International Festival (which has yet to announce its 2016 theatre programme) has moved into a new era under new director Fergus Linehan. The Irishman’s inaugural offering, in August of last year, included Simon McBurney’s unforgettable devised theatre work The Encounter and Robert Lepage’s lovely 887.

As important as his international programming, however, was the director’s removing of the shackles from Scottish theatre. No longer will Caledonian drama be represented exclusively by a world premiere at the EIF (thus putting it at a distinct disadvantage in relation to the tried and tested international work).

In 2015, a revival of Untitled Projects’ excellent Paul Bright’s Confessions Of A Justified Sinner was showcased alongside the premiere of David Greig’s fine adaptation of Alasdair Gray’s novel Lanark. If this year’s Festival is as successful, in both Scottish and international theatrical terms, theatre lovers will have good reason to celebrate.

A slightly truncated version of this preview was originally published in the Sunday Herald on January 3, 2016

© Mark Brown

Reviews: Christmas theatre 2015, week 3 (Sunday Herald)

THEATRE REVIEWS

 

PETER PAN

SECC Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow

Until January 3

 

SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARVES

King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Until January 10

 

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Perth Concert Hall

Until December 26

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

 

BarrieHunter(BettyBlumenthal)
Barrie Hunter as Betty Blumenthal in Beauty and the Beast at Perth Concert Hall. Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.

 

You could be forgiven for thinking that the The Krankies’ pantomime career has been jinxed. In 2004 Janette Tough (aka Wee Jimmy Krankie) fractured her skull falling from a malfunctioning mechanical beanstalk at Glasgow’s Pavilion Theatre.

Then, in 2011, the opening of their SECC panto, co-starring John Barrowman, was overshadowed by salacious revelations that the married couple had engaged in swinging in the past.

This year, as they take to the stage with new co-star David Hasselhoff (playing Hoff the Hook in Peter Pan), the headlines are about Janette being caught up in a race row. Her playing of Huki Muki, a male Japanese fashion designer, in the forthcoming film version of sitcom Absolutely Fabulous has been denounced as an example of “yellowface” casting.

The latest controversy is more damaging than the revelations of four years ago. Modern Scotland is more tolerant of swinging than it is of racism, and white actors playing Asian roles should, surely, be a thing of the past.

That said, there is a certain irony in the Ab Fab controversy coming, as it does, during this production of Peter Pan. Indigenous American character Tiger Lily and her “Indian braves” have always been a dubious element in JM Barrie’s story. Filtered through the cartoonish lens of pantomime, as they are here, they become outrageous caricatures.

All of which distracts from what is a pretty tidy pantomime. Director Jonathan Kiley (who co-authored the script with Alan McHugh) has fashioned a show which, in the best traditions of panto, combines the old with the new.

A set piece gag involving The Hoff and The Krankies, in which Ian Krankie is instructed to be a “pleasant peasant pheasant plucker” takes us back to the days of the music hall. A fabulous crocodile puppet and a memorable 3D visit to Atlantis are testimony to advances in stage technologies.

Hasselhoff (still limping from a recent, bizarre camel-related accident, sustained while filming) is now playing Hook for the sixth consecutive year (having taken the role in five English venues, from Wimbledon to Southend-on-Sea, since 2010). One suspects this isn’t the first time he’s performed a dodgy Knight Rider skit or rolled out a tired reference to Baywatch co-star Pamela Anderson’s breasts.

However, such self-consciously terrible material is all part-and-parcel of the postmodern, celebrity-led panto. No wonder Hasselhoff plays the entire show with an ironic smile.

He’s supported by a strong cast, including Michelle McManus in the unlikely role of a mermaid. It is, however, SECC panto regulars The Krankies who steal the show, once again.

Whatever questions one may have over Janette’s judgement in accepting the dodgy Ab Fab role, there’s no doubting that she and Ian remain a consummate comic double act. For all this production’s razzmatazz, it’s a simple Krankies routine towards the end that really raises the roof.

The SECC show (now in its sixth year) is a pretender to the crown of the famous panto at Glasgow’s King’s Theatre. This year, despite the best efforts of a fine cast led by Rab C Nesbitt star Gregor Fisher, the old playhouse comes off second best.

In Snow White And The Seven Dwarves, Juliet Cadzow gives a typically excellent performance as wicked Queen Morgiana; a character who, in the best Scottish pantomime tradition, is a posh Englishwoman. Des Clarke, as mercurial panto dafty Muddles, also puts in a tremendous shift.

Fisher himself is at his best when setting aside his character, Hector the Henchman, and playing to the undoubted rapport he has with the Glasgow audience. However, there’s little he can do about writer and director Eric Potts’s lacklustre script, which feels very much like a bog standard, off-the-peg British panto effort.

There are a few, pretty limp local gags thrown in, and the traditional bringing doon of the cloot prompts the usual, theatre-shaking audience participation. However, despite the best efforts of Jon Key and his fellow dwarves, the show ultimately serves as a warning that the King’s crown has started to slip.

There’s no such disappointment at Perth Concert Hall, where director Ian Grieve’s Beauty And The Beast (written by Mr Panto himself Alan McHugh) is about as close to a perfect pantomime as one will find. Relocated to the fictional Perthshire town of Auchterdreich (there’s even a vain baddie called Blair Atholl, played excellently by David Rankine), it balances the local with the universal beautifully.

Rarely do we see a pantomime that manages to be as silly as this one, whilst also capturing so much of the humanity of the original fairytale. Martin McCormick’s fabulous Beast, for example, is played with remarkable movement and genuine pathos; the actor should also be commended for dealing so well with the technical problems that afflicted his synthesised voice on press night.

There’s tremendous comedy, too, in the squabbling between the evil witch Deadly Nightshade (Amanda Beveridge) and her sister Poison Ivy (Angela Darcy, whose fabulous singing voice makes up for the limited vocal range of AmyBeth Littlejohn in the lead role of Belle).

However, it is Barrie Hunter’s gloriously over-the-top dame, Betty Blumenthal, who really sets this show apart. Wearing an array of hilariously outrageous costumes and make-up, the actor re-establishes his credentials as the best panto dame on the Scottish stage.

Indeed, so good is Hunter in comedy routines, songs and general merry making that one can’t help but feel he is probably the man to turn around the Glasgow King’s flagging fortunes.

These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on December 20, 2015

© Mark Brown

Review: Peter Pan, SECC Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow (Daily Telegraph)

THEATRE

 

PETER PAN

SECC CLYDE AUDITORIUM, GLASGOW

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

 

Hasselhoff Hook
David Hasselhoff as Hoff the Hook. Photo: SECC

Another year, another controversy for veteran Scottish double act The Krankies early in their panto run at Glasgow’s SECC. Four years ago, their show with John Barrowman was overshadowed by lurid headlines about the married couple, Janette and Ian Tough, having attended swingers parties in the dim and distant past.

This year the spotlight has shifted away from their new co-star David Hasselhoff (playing Hoff the Hook in Peter Pan) due to a racism row. Janette (aka Wee Jimmy Krankie) is accused of giving great offence to east Asian people through her depiction of a Japanese, male fashion designer in the forthcoming big screen version of Jennifer Saunders’s sitcom Absolutely Fabulous.

Tough’s casting has been described as an example of “yellowface” casting of white actors in east Asian roles. The row could prove at least as embarrassing for Saunders, who emerged from the group of politically correct “alternative comedians” in Britain in the early eighties, as it is for the 68-year-old Krankie.

There is something of an irony in this latest controversy, however. While questions are, perfectly reasonably, being raised about “yellowface” casting, little will be said about the parade of dubious Native American stereotypes which, in common with so many British pantos, afflicts this version of Peter Pan.

Race rows aside, the new SECC show is a definite success. Director Jonathan Kiley’s production is tight as a drum, drawing together all of the traditional elements of British variety performance with a brilliant (and genuinely terrifying) crocodile and truly amazing 3D effects (as we take a trip into Atlantis).

Panto may be all about variety for its audiences, but for David Hasselhoff it’s about stubborn continuity. The American is now playing Hook for the sixth consecutive year in an annual tour which began in Wimbledon in 2010.

The Knight Rider and Bay Watch star (who currently has a pronounced limp, on account, he says, of a freak camel accident during a recent filming engagement) is the epitome of 21st-century pantomime irony. Whether singing pop classic Hooked on a Feeling (what else?) or referencing Bay Watch’s obsession with a certain part of the female anatomy, he performs with a twinkle in his eye that seems to reflect both surprise and satisfaction that he’s pulled it off in British panto yet again.

The Hoff and The Krankies are joined by a talented cast including erstwhile Pop Idol star Michelle McManus. It’s a show full of glitz, glamour and high technology.

However, in the end, it’s an old-style music hall routine from The Krankies, complete with double entendres, ad libbing and corpsing, that really makes the show complete.

Until January 3. For further details, visit: http://www.secc.co.uk/peterpan

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on December 16, 2015

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/theatre/what-to-see/peter-pan-secc-glasgow-review-full-of-glitz-and-glamour/

© Mark Brown