I REVIEW' THEATRE
Mystery and magic
Mark Fisher warms up for the annual round of pantomimes.
First off the mark in this year‘s rush for the boisterous youth market — although joined by many others by the time you read this ~ are two out-of—town productions that fit into the Christmas Show mould, but hang on to some ofthe best elements of traditional pantomime. Just because the emphasis is on plot and there‘s no pantomime dame, doesn‘t mean the audience can‘t have a damn good yell every scene or two. And just because there are kids in the house. doesn‘t mean the adults can't be fed an unhealthy supply ofcorny jokes at the same time.
This year in Central Scotland, ifa show isn’t Cinderella, chances are it’s written by Stuart Paterson. In a couple ofcases it‘s both. I can‘t explain the sudden obsession with Cinderella — there are at least eight local productions coming up — but in Cumbernauld Theatre‘s revival of Merlin the Magniglicent and the Adventures otArthur. it‘s easy to see why Paterson‘s work is proving so popular. Like the best writers of children‘s fiction, he knows how to talk to younger people without patronising them and how to keep a good story cracking along with just the right balance of broad comedy and hair-raising suspense.
A good script. ofcourse. is only part ofit, and without a tight production it is very easy to lose the attention ofa young audience. Artistic Director Liz Carruthers recognises this, orchestrating a fast-moving, disciplined show that slips effortlessly from slapstick to nightmare, making full and
imaginative use ofthe three-sided Cumbernauld auditorium. For the company to maintain the kind of energy it does when turning in two performances a day (and a third for Benny Young in Edinburgh, the week I saw it) is a real achievement. And there is a control about the performances. whether it is Young‘s austere Merlin (did i hear one ofhis spells rightly as ‘Carruthers’?) or Liam Brennan and Matthew Costello‘s tomfoolery, and there’s hardly a character on stage that doesn‘t have a strong physical presence.
In contrast, over at Clydebank, the opening number in Wildeat‘s The Mysterious Mountain seems sloppy and ill-focused. It's partly because of the scale ofthe barn-like Clyde Theatre and partly because the sound mix makes it often impossible to make out the lyrics of Dave Anderson‘s songs (a problem which remains throughout the production — sad, because what you can hear suggests a musically sophisticated score), but it’s also because director Dave MacLennan hasn‘t paid the same attention to detail as Carruthers has at Cumbernauld. Thankfully, the production quickly
l gathers pace, not least because of
Dave Anderson's ludicrous,
3 tartan-clad Admiral McPhearty and
. ' ":23; From slap
ari erlin The Magnllicent
Jimmy Chisholm’s hip-swinging rat, Toerag, and it isn‘t long before the show slips into gear as a punchy alternative pantomime.
Ditching Betwixt and Between who‘ve been the mainstay ofthe last three Wildcat pantos, writers Anderson and MacLennan have come up with a tale about a princess who can‘t smile, despite the better efforts of her cheery sister. It’s a good idea for the basis of a story, although I feel there could be still more contrast between the sisters, and the Eastern adventures on which they embark give much sc0pe for testing their respective happy and sad dispositions. If the show is wordy, it doesn’t seem to bother the children in the audience, and the spaceship which flies across the stage is a delight. I‘d like to have heard more ofthe Gamelan Orchestra which appears only as a final surprise, but could have added a ‘ ﬂavour to the whole production. Generally though, it is a bright and brisk show which, if it lacks some of the discipline you’ll find at Cumbernauld, at least compensates with an irreverant brashness.
Merlin the Magnificent, Cumbernauld Theatre, until Sat 28 Dec.
The Mysterious Mountain, Clyde Theatre, Clydebank, until Sat4 Jan.
Theatre Royal, Glasgow. Until Sat 14 Dec.
Peter Darrell choreographed this version oi Cinderella twenty years ago. It's a peculiar mixture oi ballet and contemporary dance at times. For example, an arabesque, followed by Graham-slides into second position, with ilexed hands. There are also some surprising changes to the traditional narrative — whatever happened to the Fairy Godmother, and the clock striking twelve? And while we see the ‘ugly’ sisters being horrid to Cinders betore the ball, we don’t see their reactions on discovering her true identity
atterwards. But the morning-alter hangovers are a nice touch.
What ot the dancing? 0n the whole, the men do really well, with Vincent Hantam making his magnllicent swan song. The women, though, seem hampered by the choreography, which simply does not suit them as iemale dancers - it is too last and complicated to be happily achievable.
As tor the set design, the tirst and second acts are distinctly Arthur Rackham, all castles with turrets and eerie intertwining branches in silhouette against the moon, straight from my iavourite lalry tale books. in the third act, the dawn scene reminds me most at an MGM musical, resplendent with three teet of dry ice,
silver sun with rose and green rays, and icy green tutus. Then there is the iurry, green and red parrot in the corner of the Cinderella household - surely a symbol of the caged-In girl - and blow me it it doesn’t turn out to be one oi the iootmen who drew the carriage that takes herto the ball!
My serious complaint is about the lather repeatedly slapping the maldservant’s bottom tor a cheap laugh. Luckily, behaviour like that gets men sent to court these days, so why put it in a children’s ballet as it it is acceptable? Finally, the mystery oi the season: why do the servants measure the pumpkin during the second act? (Tamsln Gralnger)
I The Gas Station King Tut‘s Wah Wah Hut. Seen on Sun 1 Dec. Every Sunday. Situated in King Tut's which is famed as a live music venue. Glasgow‘s newest weekly comedy club. The Gas Station, aims to take comedy out of the pub and onto a proper stage. First up were two members of the Funny Farm: the hilarious. dreadlocked Phil Kay, with halfan hour of improvisation, one-liners and a pair of step ladders, and the endearingJeremy llerrin. Headlining were the Rubber Bishops from London. a highly entertaining musical duo with a vast repertoire of hits. The Gas Station has gallons of potential and litres oflaughs. (BC) I Blues in the Night Seen at the Arches Theatre. Glasgow. On tour in the New Year. How do you pack a complete history of the Blues and 23 songs into a 75-minute show? Frankly. with great difficulty. Alyson Orr and Stuart Thomas promise an exploration and a celebration, but lack both the substance and passion to provide anything more than a sketchy, rather static performance. A pleasantly informal setting places the right accent on the evening, but the sense ofsuperficiality is pervasive — less evocative ofBillie Holiday than Glenn Miller. (AH) I The Tempest Bedlam Theatre, Edinburgh. Until Sat 7 Dec. Where Greenaway came sowing confusion, with his much-hyped but magniﬁcent Prospero’s Books, EUTC now follows with a rather more conventional, though nonetheless original, production of The Tempest, in which the emphasis is ﬁrmly on the opposition between art, as embodied by Prospero, and nature. as in Caliban. Director and designer Toby Gough has aimed for the tempestuous, in a production which unites set, costume and choreography in a blaze of colour, sound and movement. Mostly it works. but much ofthe language is lost through poor delivery. and it is the minor characters. in the end, who are the ones worth watching. (All)
The List 6— 19 Decemberl99151