Goldilocks & The Three Bears – King's Theatre

Written by Allan Stewart & Alan McHugh

Directed by Ed Curtis

Musical Direction by Andy Pickering

How on earth have we arrived at Panto season again? Nary a month ago it felt as though Beauty & The Beast was playing at The King’s Theatre in Edinburgh, and now with tremendously happy crowds, our trio returns to the stage once more. Yes, folks, not only are Allan Stewart and Grant Stott back on the stage, accompanied once more by Gillian Parkhouse, but Andy Gray returns to immense cheers of appreciation and adoration. To put it simply, it just wasn’t the same without him.

Donning his top hat, Gray commands his usual stomping ground as Andy McReekie, loving(ish) husband to the gorgeous Dame May McReekie – who, incidentally, has a new book for purchase in the lobby, she’s just too humble to mention this. Together, this fine pair run McReekie’s Circus, who do away with performing animals and preferably offer daring stunts from The Berserk Riders, or vaudeville classic The Great Juggling Alfio.

Promising the greatest show on earth, Goldilocks and the Three Bears take a playfully loose interpretation of the charming tale of cold porridge, soft beds and broken chairs. Then again, when have we known a script from Allan Stewart or Alan McHugh to stick to the source material? People want eccentricity, ludicrous stunts, and a story where the three bears may not be the stars, but there is a substantial lack of story behind the showmanship. As far as pantomime goes, Goldilocks is a by the storybook take on the genre, its visuals may be first-class, but its story is in safe hands – too safe. Jokes don’t punch as hard as they usually would, with only off the cuff banters and risqué digs at Prince Andrew causing more than a chortle.

Well, what can we say except this; if there’s any budget left for next year, someone’s fiddling the tax books. The King’s Panto has always been a piece of spectacle, from the cheesy and tacky glitz and glam of festive cheer to a grandeur worthy of Princes and Princesses. So, this year, Ian Westbrook has royally outdone himself with 3D Creations lending a hand offering; big tops, tight ropes, flaming torches and animatronic creatures of King Kong scale. And still, with a few choice surprises we dare not ruin by fear of Baron Von Vinklebottom’s whip.

On the subject of Vinklebottom, it’s awfully kind that Stewart and Gray keep employing this young Stott fellow during the festive months. A star of radio and television (we’re told) there’s certainly some acting chops beneath that Cheshire grin. Every year Stott’s adoration from the crowd for playing the vilest baddies grows deeper. It’s neigh-on impossible not to surrender over to the sadistic glee Stott manifests, the louder we boo, the more wicked the performance. Comedically, it’s a pitched performance, but what would one expect? Jabbing at the audience, rolling with the punches, Stott is showman through and through. Tragically, McHugh’s script underutilises a primary asset in Stott, who isn’t on stage nearly as much as we would hope for.

In fact, with plenty on show this evening (and not just from Dame May Reekie) it would be ill in failing to mention Andy Pickering’s musical direction, or indeed Karen Martin’s dazzling choreography. You have two chances to take a breath – once before the show starts, and another at the interval. Otherwise, blink or breath and you’ll have missed something. With superb vocals, from Cinderella to Beauty to Goldilocks, like Stott, Gillian Parkhouse is woefully underused. Performing numbers well, Parkhouse’s choreography is tight, but lyrically the numbers aren’t memorable or have staying power beyond the chorus.

Standing onstage with three panto legends is a difficult task at the best of times, for first-timer to the King’s Panto, but by no means new to the gig, Jordan Young can cut it with the best of them. Within moments, Young’s panto prowess is clear. As the trio induct Young into the beating heart of Edinburgh’s festive season, the usual Panto tropes are played on the unsuspecting Young – who, in turn, rises to adlibs, tongue twisters and fourth wall jabs. What Aberdeen may have lost in his move to Edinburgh’s panto, is this cities gain.

Excelling in all forms, going for bigger, bolder and more extreme settings and talents every year, King’s Panto manages to whet the appetite for the following years show the moment the curtain falls. How, year after year this team delivers a production which makes this city proud is unfathomable, as is the energy the team bring. This may be the early nights of a long run, but there is little doubt each performance from Stewart, Gray and Stott is conducted as if it were their first, their last and their best.

Goldilocks & The Three Bears runs at The King’s Theatre until January 19th. Tickets are available from Capital Theatres: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/goldilocks

Photo Credit: Douglas Robertson

Edinburgh Gang Show – King’s Theatre

Directed by Andy Johnston

Musical Direction by Andrew Thomson

Dance Direction by Louise Williamson

Once a year, chaos, music, dance, fabulous costumes, and those young at heart or young in years descend upon The King’s Theatre to light up the frosted evenings of the capital – and the Panto doesn’t even start until next month. No, this time we’re talking about one of Edinburgh’s illustrious performance groups which stands along with The Bohemians or Southern Light as the peak of amateur theatre – The Edinburgh Gang Show. For over sixty shows now, the gang has been an integral part of the cities theatrical heritage, with no signs of slowing in this slew of vibrant majesty. 

At first, the array of performers on stage have their difficulties working with such volume in numbers, but overcome these issues remarkably, having a reliable understanding of the stage. Andy Johnston has always had an uncanny ability to bring together a wealth of Scouts and Girl Guides, drawing together gang shows of past, present and even glimmers of the future. This 60th show contains all of the gags, nudges and football jabs you may expect, but there have to be a few surprises lurking beneath all those jazz hands and gooey gowns.

Continuing to capitalise on Louise Williamson’s choreography, the gang pay tribute to the dames and dappers of Hollywood’s past, with a spectacular movement piece to the classics of musical theatre. There isn’t exactly structure to the production, more a showcase of talent which bleeds into the next – sometimes with no explanation, other times with an acknowledging gag to the lack of coherent connection. An honest admission, it still causes a few bumps and grinds to the flow which, yes, can be overlooked, but needn’t necessarily have been issues to begin.

So what you might expect is dancing, there may even be a few songs, but variety is a core element of The Gang Show. So yes, these jokes are meant to be bad, the puns are the height of dad humour – and we adore every second of it. It must be said though, that whilst the humour takes a back seat to the other talents, especially some exceptional dance routines, we get the occasional bout of originality, and a few choice celebrity guests from William Wallace to The First Minister and a certain chart-topping Scot whose love for crisps might rival his adoration for number 1 spots. Singing Someone You Loved, Mackenzie Woolard captures the tone of the song marvellously in a number to be proud of, characterising Lewis Capaldi rather well. Nowhere though, does the seamless blending of gags and vocals merge quite so well than a trip to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s world-renowned feline musical.

Alisa Maclean’s rendition of Memory, a pinnacle of musical theatre’s illustrious history, is given a fantastically inventive twist which we daren’t spoil. Not only are the vocals rather sublime, but the goings-on, decisions and timing are exceptional. Offering a break in the tumultuous number of routines, this brief snippet showcases the vaudeville stylings of the gang marvellously, with the ‘stage-hands’ causing as much mischief as they find physically achieve. Indeed, along with the likes of Tatiana Honeywell’s subdued, spellbindingly impressive performance of I Wanna Dance with Somebody, which showcases the team’s most elegant choreography, this evening is very much in the hands of the ladies.

Shaking things up a bit from the straight routines and belting it out for the women in the audience, Kelsey Main strikes out with Speechless, meanwhile Jessica Lyall who too performs during the Medieval Mayhem segment, who has so far been dominating the stage with fluid footwork, turns towards a vocal performance as she and Main show the ‘lads’ of the round table just how it’s done. This said, the male dancers, a few of whom have been paying attention to their toe-points such as Andrew Brown, have the makings of terrific dancers, particularly for comedy routines as they treat us to a little unexpected Spamalot leading up to the show’s climax.

What a finale, a solo performance from young Matthew Knowles whose performance of I’ll Always Remember You This Way gives a brief chill of a future career in the arts. Marvellous control, which sets up the farewell to a few members who, like Brown, will be leaving the gang this year, but in their place, they leave behind a legacy of achievements, memories and hope that the future performers will match their dedication and canny. 

And as a 60th year closes for The Edinburgh Gang Show, bright prospects for Scottish theatre remain. A wealth of talent, across all moulds of the stage, there’s a rich community making a stamp on Edinburgh’s history, and evidently, it’s future. From the smallest soprano to the older twinkle-toes, mirthful in enthusiasm, this 60th show serves as it does every other year, to showcase the capital’s talent, spirit and community.

The Edinburgh Gang Show runs at The King’s Theatre until Saturday 23rd. Tickets available from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/gangshow

Photo Credit – Ryan Buchanan

The Exorcist – King’s Theatre

Based on the book by William Peter Blatty

Adapted by John Pielmeier

Directed by Sean Mathias

When all medical help fails your child – when it seems as though the Reaper is closing in around her, or perhaps, a darker entity, you would turn to anyone to save them. After daughter Reagan begins to show signs of possession, actress Chris turns to the church to save her. Bill Kenwright’s Westend production takes William Peter Blatty’s supernatural text, The Exorcist, and creates a technically heavy show, which blunders into biblical failures of the unholiest intention.

Sean Mathias’ grave mistake with the production boils down to issues with pacing, The Exorcist is a tremendously slow-building text which requires build-up for the supernatural presence to take effect. The entire story survives on taking its time, allowing the menace to pervade. This is especially relevant now, given fewer devote followers who find the concept alone enough to heighten the fright factor. Susannah Edgley seems to perform Regan on fast-forward, delivering a remarkably peculiar character, devoid of childlike innocence. Mathias’ direction seems to concern itself with diving into the superficial – the gore, the swearing, the horror, but this means the sudden switch and speedy deliveries feel akin to an amateur performance, far from what this cast is capable of.

Committing wholly, soaking in every ounce of the show is Paul Nicholas, to no one’s surprise. Father Merrin’s part in the story is limited like his cinematic counterpart, but the gravity he conveys accidentally serves to showcase how little control Ben Caplan manages to get across as Father Karras. He holds limited presence, particularly when placing him alongside the likes of Tristram Wymark’s Uncle Burk, a luvvie film director. An error is that in the scripts intimately difficult scenes, such as Regan’s brief masturbation with a crucifix, the cast members involved seem too determined for the scene to be over. They draw attention to how tonally awkward the script can be when they should be embracing such a volatile piece of writing which has such depth if crude merit to its theme.

Where praise lies and an apology from others should follow, is with the technical team and stage management. With various iconic scenes to re-create, Anna Fleischle’s set is dripping with suburban American mood, with the distinct menace eerily floating through the environment. There’s depth to the design, which enables the house to gain a sense of scale, of space. While we may lose the infamous shot of Father Marren lit only by the streetlight, the harrowing echoes of Tubular Bells in the background, we do get a glimmer of recreation, but it is a shame to have lost the scene, especially as it is on the programmes cover.

Construction has been carried out with Ben Hart’s illusions in mind, seamlessly blending multiple fantasies into the background, with only a few tricks of the trade revealing themselves. For the most part, the witchery of The Exorcist is kept under wraps, on occasion to tremendous effect. As the finale draws near, Regan rises into the air to confront her redeemers, there’s a genuine air of malevolence. The infamous head turn, if carried out successfully, is relatively simple, but practical and effective, these are the effects which make the show worth viewing. 

In the world of theatre, it’s all smoke and mirrors – or at least, acts of light and sound. Philip Gladwell’s lighting design frames the production in a persistent ominous glow, from the house’s amber-tint to the cheap, though effective shock-value jolts of the strobe, covering movement or stage-setup. It marries with Adam Cork’s sound composition, which is unnerving, with its whispers, chanting and creaks in the darkness. Though, a selling feature for many is the sultry tones of another sound effect.

The Sir himself, Ian McKellen, provides the voice of the demon, suffice to say, unsurprisingly, it’s a weighty performance. It marries oddly well with Edgley’s miming, which does take times to get used to. At first, it feels unnatural, but not in the supernatural sense, removing us from the immersion. Sir McKellen’s voice is a distraction, at first, it’s difficult with such star-power for an audience to remove themselves from hearing the performer rather than the character. He certainly brings a dedication to the role, dripping with over-the-top malice and demonic glee, though his dulcet annunciations feel less diabolical and more condescending.

In truth, an unholy alliance of abysmal pacing, with misjudged direction and weak character portrayals keeps the classic of supernatural horror from achieving what it ought to. It’s a tried and tested story, still inspiring spin-off, images and blatant rip-offs to this day. The Exorcist was a defining classic of cinematic horror. It should easily have made a transition to the stage, and chances are, with superior direction, and a tighter grasp of the narrative, it could rival the likes of The Woman in Black as theatre’s nightmarish secret.

The Exorcist runs at The King’s Theatre until November 9th: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/the-exorcist

Photo Credit – The Other Richard