CHRISTMAS THEATRE REVIEWS
Mister MacNeep Has Lost His Sheep!
Scottish Opera Studios, Glasgow
Run ends today;
then touring until December 21
Jack And The Beanstalk
Byre Theatre, St Andrews
Until January 3
Reviewed by Mark Brown
If the idea of a Scottish Opera production for pre-school children conjures up images of a colossal tenor terrifying the weans with his massive lung power, worry not. Mister MacNeep Has Lost His Sheep!, is a thoroughly benign work of children’s musical theatre.
Starring Farmer MacNeep (Chris Alexander) and his sheepdog, Flossie (Marie Claire Breen), Ross Stenhouse’s story is shamelessly cutesy. Two of the farmer’s woolly flock (named Barry and Barbara; or should that be Baarry and Baarbaara?) have gone missing, and a winter evening search party is required.
Various animals are prevailed upon, and the young audience members are more than happy to oink and quack along as and when required. The adventure boasts charmingly simple designs, including a pair of splendidly well-fed sheep puppets; even if, on opening day, draping a sheet over two sets of ladders turned out to be a more difficult task than landing a robot probe on a comet.
This being Scottish Opera one hopes, first and foremost, for excellent music and song. They are duly delivered.
Whether it’s an upbeat tune being rendered on a ukulele, shakers, a cheese grater and a pair of spoons, or gorgeous compositions being played by fine cellist Laura Sergeant, Gareth Williams’s music is perfectly and beautifully pitched for three-to-five-year-olds.
The cast are in fine voice, too. Ms Breen, in particular, brings to the piece a quality of singing which we hear all-too-rarely in children’s theatre. Whatever your age, her lovely voice is worth the ticket price on its own.
If Scottish Opera’s little studio piece is all but guaranteed full houses, the same cannot be said of the Byre Theatre, St Andrews’s production of Jack And The Beanstalk. The beautiful, but troubled, Fife playhouse has only recently reopened, under the new management of St Andrews University, after a scandalous two-year closure.
It is, therefore, little surprise, that the pantomime (written and directed by Gordon Barr, artistic director of Glasgow’s annual Shakespeare festival, Bard in the Botanics) opened in late November to houses which were only a little larger than the cast itself. Respect is due, to a talented cast who battled brilliantly in the face of every actor’s worst nightmare, rows and rows of empty seats.
The first half of the show, in which Jack tries to save Christmas and his cowshed home (the Byre, of course) from being closed down by the giant, looks like pretty conventional, smaller scale panto fare. There are variably humorous pop culture references, a chorus of local children singing and dancing their hearts out, and, of course, a pantomime dame (the superb Alan Steele, putting in an ad-libbing performance fit for Scotland’s largest stages) who’s about as feminine as Scott Brown dressed by Grayson Perry.
Things take a decided turn for the better in the second half, as we’re whisked back to the Seventies and an hilariously incongruous Saturday Night Fever scenario; although it may well be funnier for adults than kids.
The final word must go to Sarah Haddath, a graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s musical theatre programme, who plays Jack’s imaginatively named love interest, Jill. An impressively confident and talented singer, dancer and actor, she is, surely, destined for great things.
Tour details for Mister MacNeep Has Lost His Sheep! can be found at: http://www.scottishopera.org.uk
These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on December 7, 2014
© Mark Brown