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

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