Mother Goose – The Byre Theatre

Directed and Written by Gordon Barr

Musical Direction by Stephen Roberts

Dust off the tinsel, crack open the advocaat and expand those pipes – it’s Pantomime season. With a vast tradition within the community, The Byre Theatre may have changed a few hands, had a few facelifts and seen more people through its doors than Mother Goose’s boudoir, but its annual Christmas celebration is a highlight for the town, for Fife and Scotland. Writer & director Gordon Barr takes his pen to the world of fairy tales once anew to lift the spirits of those who could do with one thing: a bloomin’ marvellous time out.

She’s kind, big-hearted and a wee national treasure in her own right, Mother Goose has been looking after the kids, creatures and whatever’s of Phantasia for, well, more years than she would dare admit. With her bright and happy helpers, Peter Pan and Red Riding Hood, nothing could ruin this near-perfect life with her most naive child, Bruce the Goose. That is until a splinter of frost emerges from Mother Goose’s past. A speckle of snow, from a royal adversary, who excels in drawing out the worst in us.

As time goes on, a difficulty arises in pantomime. There are only so many jokes we can hear, and a limit to the cringes we can take. Barr’s script, rifles itself with these sorts of gags, but has one key strength; delivery. Borrowing from some of Disney’s newer franchises, particularly the Descendant’s line, Mother Goose packs itself with references from our cherished childhood stories and their Hollywood counterparts. A massive cast dominates the A B Paterson auditorium, in a set leaping right from the covers of a story-book, garishly bright, panto-perfect. It’s all just too wonderfully sweet to bear, especially for our antagonist – The Snow Queen, a cold-hearted witch, with a devious tool – an indistinguishable accent.

Soaking-up every boo, thriving on hisses, Stephen Arden is a natural-born baddie. Evidence of Arden’s choreography talent becomes clear during a roguish rendition of Chicago’s Cellblock Tango, with icy representations of Panto’s foulest foes arising once more to perform a standout number which forces us to root for the baddies. Then again, Arden makes a compelling case for evil to triumph, as one of the countries’ nastiest Panto villains. Ruthless and cruel, but with solid vocals, Arden isn’t just a foppish performer hamming his role, instead, The Snow Queen has stage presence, spitting out venom which only Mother Goose can match.

Any familiar with the Byre’s festive season will no doubt be a fan of Alan Steele, the resident panto dame. As Mother Goose, Steele channels a sense of community with choice words for the productions second half, elevating this panto into a touching rendition on self-worth and image. As sentimental as Steele’s interpretation of Barr’s script maybe, his firm footing in the art of performance is second to none. With full control of the crowd, reading where the inebriates are, where the kids causing a riot maybe, and certainly where to find the unsuspecting love interests, Steele’s Mother Goose is vivacious, bodacious and decked out in all the halls.

Stitching up these queens of the stage, Siobhan’s wardrobe supervision, with Carys Hobbs’ design, makes for seamless transitions, moving from the bedazzled gown to comforting apron and showstopping peacock flairs. Mother Goose has a festive feel running throughout, it’s a cosy atmosphere, larger than life performances and revoltingly bright, colourful and cheerful children.

It’s a family affair, with the occasional nod to the parents in the audience, but as always, we seek our biggest laughs in the ad-libs and flubs. You can measure a lot from a team’s ability to run with the absent lighting cues or line trips, and the Mother Goose team rise to the challenge, rolling it into the script itself with ease. Coaxing the crowd into showing a bit more mirth, Robert Elkin’s Bruce the Goose is a spirited role, easing a rather timid Saturday crowd into relaxing, enjoying and engaging. Raising smiles with the kids, and expectations with the adults, Stephanie McGregor’s splendid vocals as Little Red are the stand-out notes, matched only by her comedic delivery.

Regional theatre at its most colourful, Mother Goose keeps itself rooted in Panto tradition, splashing a fair whack of cultural flair into its aesthetics. Supported by a solid cast, and a town who will fall behind the theatre’s history, The Byre Theatre houses a 24-carat egg of fizzing festive joy.

Mother Goose runs at The Byre Theatre until January 4th. Tickets available from: https://byretheatre.com/events/mother-goose/

Photo Credit: Viktoria Begg

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

An Evening with Elaine C. Smith – Festival Theatre

Warm-up Act by Johnny Mac

There are a few things which capture the richness of Scottish culture, art and theatre quite like actress, comedian, and all-around character that is Elaine C. Smith. Scotland’s auntie, there’s no better way to spend an evening than in the company of an entertainer who is just that – family. From The Steamie right through to Two Doors Down, Smith has been keeping Scottish smiles going through it all, and she has no intentions of stopping.

Warming us up, the home-grown talents of Johnny Mac offer a comforting jovialness to the evening, but while his passion may lie in ‘silly’ jokes, there’s a silver tongue lashing around. There’s a timeless quality to Mac’s set, striving not to rely on easily punchable targets in politics or fame, instead, he continues a familial feel. These are the sort of gags you share with your cousins or granny when she’d clout you round the ear if you swore. His work with Smith in the panto makes him a fitting warm-up act, drawing fire at the various regions of Scotland with pantomime mirth.

The glittering main event, naturally gifted, Smith is quite at home on the stage, treating it like the front room, stopping for a chat, regaling us the odd anecdote of her career – wedging them around honest humour which provides more than simple laughter. A cosy evening, a chance not only for Smith to entertain the audience, but to express her thanks for their continuing support.

In this age of comedy, it takes a great deal for a comedian to carry off jokes which centre around the archaic notions of ‘men and women’, and yet, Smith is capable of keeping these alive. Not only this, current with insight on the changing dynamics of gender, Smith touches on her championing attitudes for woman across Scotland. Complete with a stirring rally cry for those of us in an industry where, things are never easy, especially for women, and that the illusion of being handed fame on a platter may seem tempting, but soon the meal grows cold.

Never forget – Smith has pipes. It’s no secret, star of the Susan Boyle musical I Dreamed a Dream, Smith has taken to the roles of Miss Hannigan, Betty in Fat Friends and a staple of Glasgow and Aberdeen’s pantomime history. This evening, however, any ideas of a comedic singer, with vaudeville roots are displaced as Smith delivers a tingling rendition of I Will Survive, alongside a special guest. Marvellous control, it takes a tremendous restraint to equalise tempo with an operatic performer – without straining to override the performance, Smith blends the harmonies.

Not only here for the comedy, we’re also after a right good gab. It wouldn’t be an evening with if we didn’t have a few insights into the woman behind the performances. Regrettably, rather than taking live questions from the audience, Smith is instead prompted with a selection of social media questions. The answers we receive are enlightening, enjoyable, but have an air of rehearsal. With such a wit, it’s a shame Smith isn’t able to cut loose and fire back into the crowd who no doubt have a few hidden gems among them.

Kindly, Elaine offers translations for the awfy posh folk of Edinburgh, the mark of a true Lady. It’s the smallest of punches like these, that offer a sense of playful welcoming. Smith is a Scottish woman through and through. West coast born, as one of the few Glaswegians who loves Edinburgh, Smith is a representative of Scotland. All of Scotland. No matter if you’re a Dundonian, Teuchter, Buddie, Fifer or an unfortunate Aberdonian, Elaine C. Smith is a treasure we all share.

An Evening with Elaine C. Smith was performed at The Festival Theatre, Edinburgh.