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

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