Reviews: Aladdin (King’s Theatre, Glasgow) & The BFG (Dundee Rep)

Theatre

 

Aladdin

King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Until January 12

 

The BFG

Dundee Rep

Until December 31

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

 

There’s a distinct sense of deja vu in Aladdin, this year’s pantomime at Glasgow’s King’s Theatre. Disaster befalls the Slave of the Ring (as it did Cinderella’s Good Fairy last year), and Steven McNicoll’s splendidly moustached stage manager, once again, has to persuade Glaswegian pensioner Mrs McConkey (who bears a distinct resemblance to Karen Dunbar) to step into the role.

The old woman’s serendipitous arrival heralds another rollicking traditional panto. Boasting not only the considerable comic and singing talents of Dunbar, but also a tremendous, boo-inducing baddie (Gavin Mitchell’s Abanazar, who speaks, as is Scottish Christmas tradition, in a posh English accent) and a top class dame (Gordon Cooper’s Widow Twankey, who has all the feminine grace of a male hippo on the rampage), it isn’t difficult to see why the King’s show remains top of the pantomime heap.

As ever at the Clydeside theatre, the story is provided with a liberal smattering of celebrity jokes and a decent dose of local humour. A very Glaswegian rendition of The Twelve Days Of Christmas is given another raucous outing, complete with flying toilet rolls and loads of audience participation. It’s all reassuringly reminiscent of the days when the King’s panto was graced by such greats as Stanley Baxter and the late Gerard Kelly.

Not so great, however, is the burgeoning advertising and product placement in the show, which gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “commercial theatre”. There are screen ads projected in front of the curtain before the show and during the interval. As is if that weren’t enough, Widow Twankey’s place of work looks far less like a Chinese laundry than a billboard advert for certain branded cleaning products.

It’s good of producers First Family Entertainment to allow a show to take place in between the ads. Is this growing commercialism to the detriment of a much-loved panto? Oh yes it is!

If the King’s excels at pantomime, Dundee Rep is usually among the best when it comes to Christmas presentations of quality children’s theatre. So it is this year, with a stylish retelling of Roald Dahl’s The BFG.

Little Sophie’s birthday party has been dealt a terrible blow, as the children’s entertainer booked by her parents has fallen ill. However, the birthday girl alights on the idea of she and her reluctant family enacting Dahl’s tale of the eponymous Big Friendly Giant and his kidnapping and protection of a little girl (named Sophie) who would otherwise have ended up as a meal for the cannibalistic colossus Bonecruncher and his human-eating chums.

The great challenge of any staging of The BFG is how to deal with the question of the sheer difference in size between the giants and the human characters. The problem is resolved ingeniously here, with Ali Craig’s BFG, complete with Dahl’s delightfully arsy-versy grammar, interacting with a little puppet Sophie, which is operated by Stephanie McGregor in the character of the little girl. At other times, a life-sized Sophie is towered over by a huge puppet BFG, while the other giants are represented by way of huge and frightening movable masks.

Charming, brilliantly designed and well-acted though Joe Douglas’s production is, it does occasionally lack a bit of pace. That, however , is a price worth paying for another yuletide success at Dundee Rep.

These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on December 22, 2013

© Mark Brown

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