Alice In Weegieland
Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Until January 7
A Christmas Carol
Until December 31
Reviewed by Mark Brown
It’s 12 years since Forbes Masson hung up his Santa hat and departed his role as master of festive revels at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre. If we remember fondly such uproarious pastiche pantomimes as Aladdie and Weans In The Wood, we do so in the seasonal certainty that Johnny McKnight, the Tron’s current Father Christmas, has proved a very worthy successor to Masson.
McKnight is currently over at the MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling donning psychedelic frocks in his self-written, self-directed panto extravaganza Chick Whittington (he’ll be back on the Tron stage next Christmas in Mammy Goose!). This year at the Tron, however, he has placed his latest Glasgow pantomime, the utterly gallus Alice In Weegieland, in the very capable hands of director/designer Kenny Miller.
Yorkshire lass Alice (Daisy Ann Fletcher on splendidly knowing form), flees her failure at the hands of fearsome ballet mistress Fraulein Rot. She follows her feline friend Dinah (Lauren-Ellis Steele) down a cat hole into the weird underground world of Weegieland.
This strangely familiar subterranean paradise is ruled by a malevolent, vain, thin-skinned narcissist from Cathcart (namely, The Queen of Hearts, played by the preposterously fantastic Darren Brownlie). Her Majesty is like Donald Trump, but with a faux posh Scottish accent and an ability to kick her own height. In her queendom, the fashion house of choice is Burberry, statues wear traffic cones on their heads and the local delicacy is a deep fried sausage supper.
In her quest to find Dinah, Alice encounters Catty the Caterpillar (played hilariously by Julie Wilson Nimmo), whose many feet are, she says, “lowpin”. Then there’s Jo Freer’s outrageously brilliant Dora the Dormouse, who lives in a wee hole, but is, in the Gallowgate style, as wide as a barn door (not least when denouncing the Queen as a “rocket”).
However, the real obstruction to Alice’s mission is her love interest Neve (pronounced “Navy”), aka the Knave of Hearts. A cocky young buck with freckles and Newton Mearns vowels, the Queen’s put upon son is given a lung-burstingly funny, fabulously over-the-top characterisation by Scott Fletcher.
Even before curtain up, when we are confronted with a giant letter A in pink neon, one can tell that Miller is the show’s designer. Weegieland itself is, as one would expect of him, as black and white as a St Mirren shirt and as garishly colourful as a party at the late Liberace’s house.
Composer Ross Brown sprinkles the show with a series of cleverly comic songs, including a Queen-style rock opera number for the arrival of the Queen of Hearts and an innuendo-laden, Carry On-style love song.
When McKnight is playing in the MacBob panto, his absence is felt at the Tron. That said, the six-strong cast of Alice In Weegieland does a tremendous job of filling his high heels collectively. Even if the production, which has no closing audience participation number, is completely clootless.
Whereas it is the Tron’s festive function to turn the panto dial up, Spinal Tap-style, to 11, Dundee Rep tends to serve up a Christmas feast of stylish family theatre. That’s certainly the intention this year with director Andrew Panton’s decidedly musical staging of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (in a stage adaptation by Neil Duffield).
Led by Ann Louise Ross as a female Scrooge, the production is a frustratingly uneven Yuletide offering. Richard Evans’s stage designs set the tone, with their almost meaningless, collage-style backdrops and Scrooge’s flown-in counting house, which struggles to find its identity in the midst of the set’s profuse paraphernalia. The less said about the supposedly sinister Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (which Evans attempts to evoke by means of lights for eyes and a couple of huge wings swung over the audience by highly visible stagehands) the better.
Yet, in other moments, Evans brings Dickens’s much-loved tale to abundant life. Lewis Howden is Christmas cheer itself, both as the brightly-attired Mr Fezziwig and the evergreen, Santa-style Ghost of Christmas Present. Irene Macdougall’s Mrs Fezziwig is dressed like an ultra-elaborate Bake Off-winning cake.
Scrooge herself is given an unusual characterisation by Ross. A tad understated in her repetitive “humbugging” at the outset, she nevertheless has a very effective line in purse-lipped parsimony (like a particularly Thatcherite Theresa May defending benefits sanctions). Upon her conversion to Christian humanitarianism, Ross’s Scrooge is as energetic a philanthropist as you are likely to see.
Elsewhere, the Rep Ensemble do director Panton proud. Macdougall (who plays no fewer than four characters) is a frighteningly Calvinist, feminised ghost of Marley, rattling the chains of greed she fashioned during her miserly life on Earth. Howden is a similarly versatile and impressive actor, playing Mr Fezziwig with the perfect combination of generosity, empathy and moral rectitude, and the Ghost of Christmas Present as the very image of benevolence and ethical instruction.
There is no Christmas Carol, of course, without Bob Cratchitt and family. Ewan Donald is, as Dickens requires, so forgiving of his skinflint boss, Scrooge, that one wants to give him an almighty slap, seasonal goodwill notwithstanding. He is ably assisted by Emily Winter (Mrs Cratchitt) and various members of the Ensemble and the young company as Bob’s long-suffering family.
For all its inconsistencies, the production wins one round, not least with its regular recourse to the Christmas songbook. Indeed, there’s a lovely surprise in the closing number, which sends the audience home filled with festive good cheer.
These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on December 17, 2017
© Mark Brown