mum!— THE MDDNCHILD
Netherbow Arts Centre, Edinburgh. Until Mon 24 Dec.
The Moonchild is a beguiling piece of storytelling theatre staged with clear-headed precision by Hullaballoo. A Christmas show for the sensible child in your life, it's aimed at five to eleven-year-olds and based on a traditional Japanese folk tale of myths, monsters and moonbeams. Ayoung girl falls to earth from the moon and, while the forces of light and darkness battle for her heart, she risks being stranded forever should she marry a mortal.
UnderAngie Rew’s direction, Hullaballoo effortlessly puts over difficult concepts — Janet Dye as Yugao delicately flying to and from the moon, for example—and by using Isabelle Moore's beautifully coloured shadow puppets, it creates landscapes and seascapes with subtle clarity. Drawing on the measured restraint of Japanese theatre technique, The Moonchild is further stylised by the use of sign language lending a graceful physicality to the performances.
Characters are painted with broad brush strokes as each actor plays out to the audience, stating their concerns in almost Brechtian fashion. The sign language imposes a particular rhythm, but it is rarely at odds with the verbal pace and it helps to emphasise the issues and feelings being discussed. It’s a short, but perfectly rounded production which the adults find just as captivating as the children.
Turtle Count: Nil. Cross Dressing: Nil. (Mark Fisher)
Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh. Until Sat 5Jan.
Don‘t go to the Brunton if you're looking lorthe standard Disneyfied story ol the woodcutter and his lilelike puppet with a propensity to lie. This is Pinocchio panto-style in which playwright David Swan picks up a few of the original’s key elements—the fox, the cat, the whale, the extending nose — and
drapes his own story over the top. Now set in Verruca’s Toy Department (this is Italy, you understand), the threat is
i from a Chltty Chitty Bang Bang gang of kidnappers known as the Raffla who
are foiled partly by Pinocchio's ability
l to sniff out danger.
There’s an underlying message about not talking to strangers - one that took a while to sink in for one tot who attempted to join in the on-stage action at its most frightening — but the controlling ethos is to have as much irreverent panto fun as possible. Budget restrictions stop the show from being as glam as some of its big city cousins, but the ebullient cast makes up for it by milking the youthlul audience mercilessly. There’ll be a lot of hoarse children and deal parents in Musselburgh by the end oi the run.
Jimmy Chisholm’s Mama Scrumpi steals the show as far as the grown-ups are concerned- his spot-on limimg holds out even in the lace of several
' dozen screaming brats pre-empting his
lines— but the kids are well and truly on the side of a spirited and witty Maria Brown as the undercover police officer, and a very convincing Pauline Lockhart as Pinocchio. They’re supported by a large and lively company, some of whom look a little lost at the show’s most anarchic moments, and l was particularly amused by a inspirationally miscast Victor Greene as the gun-toting toddler Rambioo. Turtle Count: Four.
Cross Dressing: Yes.
King’s Theatre, Edinburgh. Until Sat 16 Feb.
The emphasis of Stanley Baxter’s last ever pantomime is as much on the telling of the magical fairy-tale story as it is on the clowning double act of Angus Lennie and Baxter. It's a shame
that on the press night (‘A special
night,’ said Baxter, ‘because all the money taken will be going straight into the bank on Monday.‘) the number of children was relatively small. From the touching near-romance of Cinderella and Buttons to the stunning transformation of the white mice into
Rafia attack at the Brunton Theatre
real Shetland ponies, the production stays faithful to its storybook origin and keeps the kids captivated.
The most obvious Baxter influence is in the flamboyant, quite ridiculous costumes in which he and Lennie appear. Their Ugly Sister dresses are modelled on everything from a spring onion to a wedding cake and come complete with the requisite corny puns. I’d have appreciated a few more jokes, but the two of them regain lost ground in a splendid Swan Lake send-up, Baxter’s Parliamo Glasgow flash-back and some particularly cruel slapstick when the sisters attempt to punish Cinderella. Lennie makes quite the cutest of Dames and Baxter’s famous clean-cut legs still rival those of the Principal Boy.
It’s high time the King's updated its all-singing, all-dancing chorus routines. Pantomime may be all about tradition, but this particular element is ossitied, not in some timeless Music Hall pre-history but, very specifically in the brassy showbiz 50s. Song and dance is an integral part of panto, but that’s no reason for it to seem so dated. it’s certainly an achievement for Patrick McCann to have clocked up 21 successive pantos as Musical Director, but it's not a convincing recommendation.
Elsewhere, Kalman Glass is a stodgy and uncharismatic Baroness, neither lrightening nor funny, but Barnaby makes an endearing Buttons, albeit better at the comic solo routines than at the straight acting, and all of the women -Alyson Mclnnes as Cinderella, Diana Barimore as Prince Charming and Claire Massie as Dandini - manage to avoid the mawkish blandness that these roles often fall into. Perhaps it’s not the great success that the final return of Stanley Baxter promised, but it is every bit the glitzy, large scale, traditional family show that you'd expect.
Turtle Count: Two. Cross Dressing: Yes. (Mark Fisher).
THE TREASURE 0F WOOKIMAGOO
Tron Theatre, Glasgow. Until Sun 27 Jan. The panto season normally calls on a different order oi acting skills to the restrained naturalism oi the rest of the year, so its surprising to find yourself enjoying the subtlety of the performances in Bruce Morton's Yuletide island romp. Not that The Treasure of Wookimagoo isn‘t every bit as silly as its Christmas competitors, just that it provides that wee bit more for the actors to sink their teeth into. Dorothy Paul fulfills expectations with her shiver-me-timbers caricature Pirate Queen striking fear and the opportunity for a few fast jokes into the stranded population of the desert island Wookimagoo. Ashley Jensen comes into her own as Shona, the frustrated teenager, desperate for a
boy and a disco, her face an animated ball of expression, her body alive with jumps and jerks. And Robert Paterson, as rock ‘n' roll reject Bobby, makes a very funny entrance and continues to be hilariously washed-up for the rest of the show.
This is actually closer to a Christmas show than a panto; there are lots of songs, and chances to boo and hiss, but it is structured round one tightly- plotted story. It reminds me of the last couple of Christmas shows at Edinburgh's Traverse, aimed at those too cynical for Music Hall panto, but still appreciative of a good bit of knock-about comedy. And like those Traverse productions, you tend to smirk your way through The Treasure of Wookimagoo without reaching the point of hilarity that only a lunatic spiral of events can produce.
It’s a shame that on the press night there were so few children in the audience - the grown-ups were warm but quiet, and I would speculate that a better mix could produce a really wild performance. As it stands, it‘s got the highest joke count (sharp and corny) of any show this year and is one of the most consistently amusing.
Turtle Count: Two. Cross Dressing: Nil. (Mark Fisher)
Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh. Until Sat 5Jan. Hiawatha has all the qualities of a great Boy's Dwn story. There are the wide open spaces, the continual battle with nature, the mythical Christ-like hero and the eventual arrival of the destructive white man in his ‘canoe with wings’. it's the same basic story whether it‘s Robin flood or Star Wars and one that appeals to the spirit of adventure in us all.
The limitation in Michael Bogdanov’s adaptation of Longfellow’s poem is that
50 The List 21 Dcccmbcr1990—10January199i