Reviews: La Clique Noel: Part Deux, Festival Square Spiegeltent, Edinburgh & Snow White And The Seven Dames, Perth Theatre

CABARET AND THEATRE

By Mark Brown

 

La Clique Noel: Part Deux

Festival Square Spiegeltent, Edinburgh

Until January 5

La Clique Noel Part Deux
Heather Holliday in La Clique Noel: Part Deux. Photo: Ian Georgeson

An Edinburgh Fringe phenomenon is becoming a Yuletide tradition as the multifarious cabaret talents of La Clique install themselves in Festival Square for a second Christmas show. Since its first productions, at the Fringe back in 2004, La Clique has been entertaining rapt audiences in the capital with its slightly risque mixture of music, acrobatics, magic, striptease and circus acts.

The music played by Dannie Bourne and his band, and sung with impressive range by Australian chanteuse Kelly Wolfgramm, gives the show a jazzy, American feel. However, the atmospheric tone of the show is really set by our extraordinary hostess Bernie Dieter.

Brilliantly bold and fabulously flirtatious, the self-proclaimed “mistress of mayhem” takes us back to the nightclubs of Berlin in the 1920s, which remain the beating heart of cabaret. Indeed, when she isn’t terrifying male members of the audience by getting, hilariously, up close and personal with them, she is making a timely call for love and acceptance of diversity because, now, as in Weimar Germany, “there’s some scary s*** going on” in the world outside.

The acts Dieter presents include the eye-watering sword-swallowing and dynamic fire-eating of New Yorker Heather Holliday, the spectacular hair-hanging acrobatics of Fancy Chance and the impressive juggling of dapper, Brussels-trained circus performer Florian Brooks. The Marilyn-esque striptease of Muscovite model and burlesque act Mosh takes the show to the edge of its mainstream billing, while Stephen Williams’s performance of that old favourite “young, male aerial artist in a bath” is like a cross between a circus performance and a Diet Coke advert from the 1980s.

Magician and comedian Paul Zenon projects an uncomfortably cynical persona. Although he impresses with his sleight of hand, the Ken Dodd Comedy Award-winner’s jokes have more than a whiff of the 1970s about them.

All told, the show keeps pretty assiduously to La Clique’s well-worn path, only nodding gently towards the sub-cultural edginess of contemporary burlesque. It’s a good night out nevertheless, thanks in very large measure to the inimitable Ms Dieter.

 

Snow White And The Seven Dames

Perth Theatre

Until January 5

Snow White and the Seven Dames
Barrie Hunter in Snow White And The Seven Dames. Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Perth audiences have had so much fun with Dame Barrie Hunter over the last seven years that the Fair City’s pantomime lead (who has also turned director of the show) has decided to try them with no fewer than seven cross-dressed comic characters. Mind you, try as you might, I defy you to spot the sisters – Sassy, Cissy, Gassy, Hissy, Glaikit, Hackit and Frank (aye, Frank!) – in the same place at the same time. It’s almost as if they’re all being played by just two actors (the fabulous Hunter and his splendid partner-in-panto Ewan Somers), or something.

Like the seven dwarfs of legend, the dames are miners. However, they’re not digging for gold or coal, but, rather, extracting huge quantities of beautifying elixir for Helen Logan’s fabulously sung, yet deliciously evil Queen B.

Needless to say, as the Dunfrackin Mine, just outside the lovely town of Perthfect, is exploited to the point of exhaustion, the environmental cost of these endeavours is massive. The Queen’s demand for the elixir is limitless, after all, her stepdaughter Snow White’s pubescent spottiness won’t last forever, and the malevolent monarch must remain the “fairest of them all”.

Emma Mullen’s Snow White is splendidly unconventional; not least because she wants to dump her moniker in favour of something more prosaic. Pestered by Michael Dylan’s hilarious Prince Poshpants (imagine Jacob Rees-Mogg labouring under the delusion that he’s Lord Flashheart), she prefers Kyle Gardiner’s morally conflicted Tam the Huntsman.

The scene down the stricken mine, in which, courtesy of Hunter and Somers’s comic virtuosity, all seven sisters manage to put in an appearance, is a scream. As ever in Perth, it’s a gloriously silly panto, and a fine directorial debut for Dame Hunter.

These reviews were originally published in The Herald on Sunday on December 30, 2018

© Mark Brown

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Reviews: A Christmas Carol Tramway, Glasgow & Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen

THEATRE

By Mark Brown

 

A Christmas Carol

Tramway, Glasgow

Until January 6

A Christmas Carol - Citz 2018
Benny Young (Scrooge) and Elise De Grey (ensemble) in A Christmas Carol. Photo: Tim Morozzo

Re-gifting is, generally, something of a faux pas at Christmas time. However, in the case of this revival of Dominic Hill’s production of Charles Dickens’s seasonal favourite A Christmas Carol (which was first staged at Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre in 2014), it is difficult to imagine a more wonderful present for Yuletide theatre audiences.

Hill has adapted his show masterfully to be played on a bespoke thrust stage in Tramway’s main performance space (the temporary abode of the Citizens company while its Gorbals home undergoes a transformative redevelopment). His tremendous cast, who welcome us to our seats warmly with a series of nicely sung carols, has also changed.

The passage of time and the exigencies of acting careers have necessitated some alterations to the acting personnel, most notably in the lead role itself. The superb Cliff Burnett (who was Hill’s Scrooge four years ago) has been replaced by the equally excellent Benny Young (who gave an unforgettable rendering of the skinflint in the National Theatre of Scotland’s Carol back in 2011).

Young is the perfect Scottish Scrooge; imagine an especially parsimonious, Calvinist Newton Mearns bank manager circa 1843. If the actor gives the impression of a man whose soul has shrivelled to the size of a raisin, that is all the better for the delightful exuberance of his ultimate conversion to become London’s most enthusiastic philanthropist.

If the part of the penitent miser is played with great style and skill, every other aspect of the production follows suit. This is as true of Rachael Canning’s beautiful period costumes and fabulous puppets as it is of Nikola Kodjabashia’s, by turns, bleakly and joyously atmospheric music and sound.

The crisp, poetic script, by the outstanding dramatist Neil Bartlett, gets to the beautiful heart of Dickens’s evergreen tale. As in 2014, it is brought to the stage with immense panache and humanity by Hill and a first class cast.

 

Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs

His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen

Until January 6

HMT Snow White 2018
Jordan Young and Alan McHugh in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Photo: Aberdeen Performing Arts

His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen is one of the powerhouses of the traditional Scottish pantomime. With its “star turn off the telly” (Lee Mead, who won the BBC’s musical theatre contest Any Dream Will Do back in 2007, as Prince Harry), and its outrageously lurid costumes, it might seem interchangeable with any big stage English panto.

However, whereas in England pantomime is all about the hilarity of seeing Frank Bruno in a frock or the excitement of Anita Dobson making an appearance in Hull, in Scotland there is a premium on good old-fashioned music hall comedy. More often than not, that starts with the cross-dressed dame, and HMT has, for the last 15 Christmas seasons, boasted one of the best.

Alan McHugh, actor, musical theatre performer and writer extraordinaire, is both the author and the comic lead of Aberdeen’s panto. Performing the role of the decidedly less-than-feminine Nurse Nellie MacDuff, McHugh is the hilarious and undisputable star of the show.

Like a comic ringmaster, McHugh ad libs and interacts with the audience (not least in a surprisingly effective skit involving a video camera) with the confidence and deftness of such comic heroes as Chic Murray and Johnny Beattie. He has also fashioned a superb double act with Jordan Young, whose Muddles is a tremendous, high-octane pantomime dafty, and the perfect partner to McHugh’s inspired nonsense.

A guide in song to the towns and villages of Aberdeenshire is such a tongue-twisting delight that we can forgive McHugh for throwing in Fochabers (which is actually in Morayshire, and, obviously, included for its comic potential). Jenna Innes (Snow White) and Mead are in fine voice, while Juliet Cadzow carries on the proud Scottish tradition of posh, English baddies as the witch Queen Lucretia.

All in all, another rumbustious pantomime success for HMT and its master of revels Dame Alan McHugh.

These reviews were originally published in The Herald on Sunday on December 23, 2018

© Mark Brown

 

Reviews: Mammy Goose, Tron Theatre, Glasgow & Mouthpiece, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

THEATRE

By Mark Brown

 

Mammy Goose

Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Until January 6

 

Mammy Goose, L-R Julie Wilson Nimmo, Lorna McMillan, Johnny McKnight, Ryan Ferrie & Darren Brownlie
Julie Wilson Nimmo, Lorna McMillan, Johnny McKnight, Ryan Ferrie and Darren Brownlie in Mammy Goose. Photo: John Johnston  

Hold onto your hats! It’s Christmas time and, at the Tron, Dame Johnny McKnight is very emphatically in the house. Playing the titular heroine, who runs a cafe on the Maryhill Road, McKnight (who is also the writer and director) spins through the auditorium like a cross between a motor-mouthed drag queen and a very colourful tornado.

Mammy’s cafe is under threat from the narcissistic witch Vanity Visage (Lauren Ellis-Steele on fine, hiss-inducing form), who (as well as being posh and English, obviously) manages a property portfolio. Unless she can pay the rent arrears, Mammy and her two weans (Lucy Goose, who is an actual goose, and Jack Goose, who isn’t) are going to be thrown onto the cold streets of north Glasgow at Christmas (awwww)!

What ensues is comic mayhem. As ever, McKnight takes hilarious liberties with carefully chosen male members of the audience.

A series of very funny, original songs fit perfectly into a panto that zips along at pace, even when it stumbles. And stumble, delightfully, it does, all the better for McKnight and his equally brilliant partners in crime Julie Wilson Nimmo (Lucy) and Darren Brownlie (Jack) to prove their tremendous capacity for ad-libbing.

The fabulous wild card in McKnight’s narrative is the budding love affair between Jack and Vanity’s long-suffering son Will (the excellent Ryan Ferrie). This subplot blossoms into a celebration of gay marriage (complete with rainbow flag bedspread) so deliciously strident that it would put DUP leader Arlene Foster off her Christmas dinner, so it would.

If the show (which boasts appropriately garish design by Kenny Miller) has a difficulty it is that, as so often with the Tron’s pastiche pantos, its uproarious humour holds more for adults than it does for children.

 

Mouthpiece

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Until December 22

 

Mouthpiece
Lorn Macdonald and Neve McIntosh in Mouthpiece. Photo: Roberto Ricciuti

Orla O’Loughlin, the Traverse’s departing artistic director, takes her leave with this crisply directed production of Mouthpiece, Kieran Hurley’s new, non-Christmas play. Tracing the unlikely friendship between Libby (a playwright stricken by mid-life crisis) and Declan (a young, working-class man from Edinburgh’s marginalised housing schemes), the drama promised to expose the ethical (not to mention the aesthetic) problems of the consciously “issue driven” play.

Hurley’s offering is framed as a “play-within-a-play”, by virtue of the occasional appearance of a dramaturge (the kind of person who assists playwrights with the structure of their plays). This artistic advisor records somewhat cynical notes on how to construct precisely the kind of drama Libby is (parasitically) writing about Declan. However, rather than keeping us at an incredulous distance from the action (as Brecht might have done), Hurley allows his central narrative to climb out of its meta-theatrical frame and play itself out as a conventional socio-political and emotional thriller.

The characterisations of Libby and Declan reinforce, rather than overturn, the formulaic caricatures of British theatrical realism. Nor is this altered by the insertion of the sort of “game-changing” moment of sexual contact that a dramaturge might recommend (not least because it is schematically predictable, rather than shocking).

Despite Hurley’s undoubted sympathy with the real life Declans of our society, there is an uncomfortable sense that his play is, first-and-foremost, an expression of the concerns of 21st-century Scottish dramatists; an impression that is strengthened by the numerous, cosy playwrights’ in-jokes and by the fact that the final scene (at the premiere of Libby’s fictitious play) is set at the Traverse itself.

The production is designed with stark intelligence by Kai Fischer, and given better performances than it deserves by fine actors Neve McIntosh and Lorn Macdonald.

Ultimately, however, Mouthpiece looks like the outcome of an ill-advised collaboration between Irvine Welsh and Alan Ayckbourn. It purports to offer a sceptical deconstruction of the well-intentioned, but artistically unrewarding, theatre of liberal conscience, but ends up becoming the very thing it set out to critique.

These reviews were originally published in The Herald on Sunday on December 16, 2018

A note on the review of Mouthpiece: There is an error in the above review in that, when Neve McIntosh breaks from the main action to speak notes for a play into a microphone, I took her to be taking on the role of a dramaturge, whereas she is playing Libby writing her play. Rather than amend the review here, I think it is more honest to re-publish the review as it was written and provide this note. Interestingly, my error is rooted in my extending Hurley’s meta-theatrical device, in my mind, further than it actually went. That said, it seems to me that, in “writing” her play, Libby employs the sort of schematic thinking that one might expect from a fictionalised, somewhat caricatured dramaturge. In any case, I certainly consider Libby to be “channelling” a dramaturge in those scenes. Crucially, this misapprehension on my part in no way contributed to my overall opinion of the play, which remains as expressed in the review. 

© Mark Brown

Review: Cinderella, SEC Armadillo, Glasgow

THEATRE

 

CINDERELLA
SEC ARMADILLO, GLASGOW

Reviewed by Mark Brown

 

Krankies
The Krankies in Cinderella

Scotland’s flourishing Christmas theatre tradition puts a premium on the pantomime dame. Things are slightly different at the country’s biggest panto, at the SEC Armadillo, however. Here, the star of the show is, not a bloke in a frock, but a 71-year-old woman dressed as a little boy.

This year’s SEC offering, Cinderella, has the glitzy production values and the high-kicking glamour one would expect of a big stage Christmas show. However, it’s Janette Tough (aka “Wee Jimmy Krankie”) who makes it a panto less ordinary.

Starring alongside husband, and long-time showbiz partner, Ian, the septuagenarian Janette is still at the top of her game. Playing the role of Buttons (dogsbody to Ian’s Baron Hardup), she pursues Gemma Lawson’s golden-voiced Cinderella with an ill-fated gusto.

As if to prove the vaudevillian roots of pantomime, the funniest moments come in the old-style music hall routines. This ranges from Wee Jimmy singing his signature song Picking on Me to Janette (in school shorts and blazer) being thrown around like a ragdoll by Ian in the Krankies’ evergreen comic number Funny Boy.

As ever with this experienced double act, lines are slipped occasionally, prompting adroit and genuinely hilarious ad-libbing. There’s also an edgy reply to those who have accused Janette of racism in the past.

Just three years after she was criticised for giving a “yellowface” performance (as male Japanese fashion designer Huki Muki) in the Absolutely Fabulous movie, Janette returns to east Asian caricature as North Korean dictator Kim Jung-un. Not only is the skit, in which she and Ian (who gives a dodgy Donald Trump impersonation) sing a song about Kim being a “rocket man”, racially dubious, it also isn’t very funny.

If the Krankies, and Janette in particular, top the bill, they are ably supported by much-loved comic actors of TV and stage Gavin Mitchell and Jonathan Watson as Cinders’ ugly stepsisters Hinger and Minger. With repartee as lurid as their increasingly outrageous costumes, the pair are as boo-inducingly humorous as they are repulsive.

There are strong, vocally impressive performances from Frances Thorburn (Fairy Alice), Keith Jack (Prince Charming) and Peter Vint (Dandini). There’s spectacle, too, with Cinders flying above the audience in her magical pumpkin carriage.

However, if the SEC panto deserves top billing in Scotland this Christmas, that is down, first-and-foremost, to the still high-energy antics of Wee Jimmy Krankie.

Until December 30

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on December 15, 2018

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/theatre/what-to-see/cinderella-sec-armadillo-glasgow-reviewwee-jimmy-krankie-makes/

© Mark Brown

Review: Cinderella by Scottish Ballet, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh (Daily Telegraph)

DANCE

 

Cinderella

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Reviewed by Mark Brown

Cinderella by SB 2018
Sophie Martin (Cinderella) and Barnaby Rook-Bishop (The Prince) in Cinderella. Photo: Scottish Ballet

The return of this Cinderella by Scottish Ballet’s artistic director Christopher Hampson (last seen in the 2015-16 winter season) will be welcomed by dance lovers throughout Scotland and, in the final days of this tour, the north east of England. The piece, which sparks with innovative and humorous touches, and boasts gloriously original sets and costumes by Tracy Grant Lord, was first staged by the Royal New Zealand Ballet in 2007.

The beauty of this staging of Prokofiev’s famous ballet is that Hampson and Lord have allowed their imaginations to fly with the bold characterisations and contrasts that are embedded within the story. The tone is established early on, when Cinders (danced with a gorgeous, controlled grace by Sophie Martin) is tormented by a stepmother (Marge Hendrick on fabulously wicked, angular form) who literally spits on the memory of Cinderella’s late mother.

If Hampson’s choreography emphasises moral contrast, Lord’s designs place a premium upon distinctions of style and the magic of nature (Araminta Wraith’s flawless Fairy Godmother is in her element in Lord’s wonderfully ornate and magnified rose garden). The audacity of the production is underlined at the royal ball, which combines the Art Deco style of a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie with a regal splendour that is redolent of the Habsburgs (even if the unlovely, two-dimensional chandeliers mark a small chink in Lord’s aesthetic armour).

A Christmas ballet should be fun, and this staging pops with comic moments. The springing dance of Jamiel Laurence’s splendidly-costumed grasshopper is a delight, as are the excruciating ballroom antics of the garishly-costumed stepsisters; a frenzied, clawing chip off the maternal block (Grace Horler) and her endearingly bumbling, shorter sibling (Kayla-Maree Tarantolo).

The scene in which the Prince (a smartly assertive Barnaby Rook-Bishop) searches, symbolically, in the dark for the owner of the glass slipper exemplifies the show’s unconventional bent.  On a bare, pitch-black stage, the desperate aristocrat encounters a succession of disembodied, cleverly illuminated legs.

As Martin and Rook-Bishop dance the final, delightful pas de deux in the enchanted rose garden, it is charmingly apparent that the Prince is seeking to emulate his bride’s natural gracefulness, rather than expecting her to affect his regal airs – a contemporary-seeming nuance in a production that ultimately feels like a celebration of the triumph of good taste and judgment over vulgarity.

At Festival Theatre, Edinburgh until December 30, then touring until February 2. For further details, visit: scottishballet.co.uk

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on December 11, 2018

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/dance/what-to-see/cinderella-review-festival-theatre-edinburgh-sparky-sparkly/

© Mark Brown

Reviews: Wendy and Peter Pan, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh & The Wizard of Oz, Pitlochry Festival Theatre

THEATRE

By Mark Brown

 

 

Wendy and Peter Pan

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

Until January 5

Wendy#2 - Isobel McArthur and Dorian Simpson (foreground, right). Photo credit Mihaela Bodlovic
Isobel McArthur and Dorian Simpson in Wendy and Peter Pan. Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic

While most of Scotland’s playhouses are given over to raucous pantomimes (oh yes they are!), some of the nation’s repertory theatres, including Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum, prefer a more sophisticated brand of narrative-driven Christmas theatre. This year, the Lyceum stages Wendy and Peter Pan, Ella Hickson’s re-telling of J.M. Barrie’s famous adventures in Neverland.

Directed by Eleanor Rhode, the production is probably the most frustrating Christmas show I have ever reviewed. On the one hand, with (as the adapted title suggests) its emphasis on the adventurousness of girls, it is admirably unconventional and unruly.

On the other hand, however, the play’s rumbustiousness gives way, too easily and too often, to a kind of shapeless chaos.

The production’s greatest strength lies in the portrayals and performances of the female characters. Isobel McArthur’s Wendy, frustrated by the highly gendered control-freakery of eldest brother John (and, perhaps, encouraged by younger brother Michael’s desire to be a mermaid), becomes an intrepid and clever thorn in the flesh of Captain Hook.

Tink (as Sally Reid’s hilarious, human-sized Tinker Bell insists on being called) is a wonderfully punky, gallusly Scottish creation who crushes Disney’s simpering caricature under her Doc Martens boots.

On the male side of things, Gyuri Sarossy’s Hook (working-class, from the south east of England, like an angry, occasionally reflective Ian Dury) is an intriguingly original characterisation. The same cannot be said of Ziggy Heath’s Peter Pan, who has all of his character’s selfishness, but too little of his charm.

Hickson’s script is strong on comedy (not least in Smee’s dreams of retiring to a cottage with Hook), but weak on structure. Wendy’s set piece, feminist speech, for instance, feels as if it has been shoehorned into the play.

Designer Max Johns’s sets are as exasperatingly inconsistent as the show as a whole. The scaffolding at the heart of his design is wonderfully utilitarian, and easily transformed into a fine pirate ship.

Peter Pan’s lair, however, is an ugly, disordered miscellany, as, too often, is this maddeningly variable production.

 

The Wizard of Oz

Pitlochry Festival Theatre

Until December 23

Wizard of Oz - Douglas MacBride
The Wizard of Oz at PFT. Photo: Douglas MacBride

Pitlochry Festival Theatre is one of the reps that eschews pantomime at Christmas time. The “theatre in the hills” opts, instead, for a Yuletide musical.

Following on from its summer success with Chicago, PFT scores another notable musical hit with this classy staging of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz. Based, of course, on the much-loved MGM film from 1939, director Gemma Fairlie’s production approaches the famous tale with a winning, youthful energy.

Rachel Flynn (gloriously confident and singing beautifully in the “Judy Garland role” of Dorothy) leads a tremendous, predominantly young cast in a delightfully faithful rendering of John Kane’s stage adaptation. The production follows the yellow brick road assiduously as the storm-tossed Dorothy meets, by turns, Scarecrow (Daniel Bailey), Tin Man (Will Knights) and Cowardly Lion (Marc Akinfolarin).

Musical director Dougie Flower and his band do tremendous, zestful justice to the famous score (music by Harold Arlen and Herbert Stothart, lyrics by E.Y. Harburg). Sarah Galbraith (an almost ironically perfect, Southern Belle-style Glinda, Good Witch of the North) and Akinfolarin give particularly memorable vocal performances, in a production that boasts almost uniformly excellent singing.

There’s no show, where this story is concerned, without baddies, and Icelandic actor Camille Marmie (a graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) provides splendidly. She flips deliciously from the bolt upright Kansas neighbour Almira Gulch to her enthusiastically evil alter-ego, the Wicked Witch of the West.

There is genuinely breathtaking spectacle in the aerial and acrobatic work of the enchanted trees and the very naughty Flying Monkeys. The wheeled pieces of set in Oz itself are disappointingly clumsy, but it would take a lot more than that to spoil what is, otherwise, an absolutely splendid musical for Christmas.

These reviews were originally published in The Herald on Sunday on December 9, 2018

© Mark Brown

Reviews: Sleepin’ Cutie & A Ladder to the Stars, both MacRobert Arts Centre, University of Stirling

THEATRE

By Mark Brown

 

Sleepin’ Cutie

MacRobert Arts Centre, University of Stirling

Until December 31

Sleepin' Cutie#
Sleepin’ Cutie. Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic

They say that the best things come to those who wait. That is certainly true of Sleepin’ Cutie, Johnny McKnight’s latest pastiche pantomime for the MacBob.

The show, in which the titular “Cutie” (aka Princess Bonnie) is abandoned to a long sleep by her sadist mother and dog chain-wearing masochist father, takes a little time to get going. Maybe it’s the perplexing S&M theme, or perhaps it’s the early volley of pop culture references (many of which go whizzing over the heads of the children in the audience), but the panto makes an unusually slow start.

Fear not, however, director Julie Ellen’s production soon picks up pace and, by the interval, is already shaping up to be another Yuletide humdinger for the MacRobert. Partly this is down to McKnight’s script finding its mojo, but it also has a lot to do with the show boasting one of the finest casts in the Scottish pantosphere.

When you have the likes of Robert Jack (winner of the Best Male Performance gong in this year’s Critics’ Award for Theatre in Scotland, as the gloriously silly Jester) and Helen McAlpine (explosively hilarious as the baddie Queenie McMeanie) on your stage, panto magic is all but guaranteed. Add Gavin Wright (wonderfully unbridled as both the masochist King Barry and Queenie’s little, green sprog Leanie McMeanie) and Keith McLeish (a sassy, sharp-talking revelation as Fairy Contrary), and there’s enough theatrical energy for two pantos.

When Prince Charming (played in knowingly ironic, thigh-slapping principal boy style by Katie Barnett) arrives, the audience gets right behind Jester, who is not-so-secretly in love with Bonnie (the fine voiced Kara Swinney). This is due not only to Jack’s undeniable charm in the role of the pantomime dafty, but also, one suspects, to Barnett’s Prince being a Lord Flashheart wannabe with a posh voice that’s more annoying than funny.

As ever at the MacBob, the cast is supported by a chorus of talented, all-singing, all-dancing local kids.

It takes a little time, but when Sleepin’ Cutie wakes up, it rouses itself into another hit Stirlingshire pantomime.

 

 

A Laddder to the Stars

MacRobert Arts Centre, University of Stirling

Until December 24

 

Back to the MacBob, to the venue’s excellent, little studio theatre, for A Ladder to the Stars, a play for children aged five and under by Glasgow-based children’s theatre company Visible Fictions and Aberdeen Performing Arts. Adapted from Simon Puttock’s children’s book by Visible Fictions’ director Dougie Irvine, the show tells the story of an unnamed, seven-year-old girl who wishes, not upon a star, but to dance with a star.

The tale, in which the moon and the sun (among others) try to find ways of getting the little girl into outer space, is made for the talents of puppet maker Ailie Cohen, set designer Becky Minto and props maker Marian Colquhoun. Cohen’s puppet for the wee girl is as cleverly manipulable as it is charming visually.

Minto’s design is like a regular theatre set that has been miniaturised in every aspect. This includes a neat, little stage revolve, which actors/puppeteers Carmen Pieraccini and Ronan McMahon use to the full (think the Generation Game conveyor belt delivering key props in the story).

The props themselves, which range from a delightful, wee hot air balloon to a couple of life-size astronauts’ helmets (which, humorously, appear on the actors’ heads as they emerge from a pair of cardboard boxes), and the smartly attuned lighting (by Grahame Gardner) complete a design triumph.

Sadly, however, despite the best efforts of the talented Pieraccini and McMahon, the structure of the piece requires too much (by way of patient viewing) of the increasingly restless, young theatregoers. A delightful looking show, then, but one which, ultimately, isn’t sufficiently engaging for its pre-school audience.

These reviews were originally published in The Herald on Sunday on December 2, 2018

© Mark Brown