It‘s a remarkably short three hours at the King’s. Edinburgh. where a large- scale Aladdin boasts the traditional quota of sparkling sets (six years‘ old. but looking brand new), glamorous chorus-lines and comic patter. What helps to make it so enjoyable is the fact the cast enjoys itself so much. No time is wasted. but the show is crammed to the brim with joke after joke. delivered with polish and panache from Una McLean (Widow Twankcy) and Gerard Kelly (Wishee Washee), ably supported by double-act Hope and Keen.
The music is less mawkish and old- fashioned than in recent years and Sheridan Nicol‘s choreography is slick and energetic, the highlight being Una McLean‘s set-piece tap dance in the ﬁrst half. Apart from one unconvincing scene in which Aladdin is locked in the cave for no good reason by Michael MacKenzie‘s formidable baddy. Abanazer. the show is tightly-plotted, and the pace slows only for Emerson and Jayne‘s novelty black-light sequence. which entertains the very young members of the audience, but leaves everyone else with the depressing thought that the couple has been doing this act for over 30 years.
It‘s tremendous value and tremendous fun. You‘d have to be a conﬁrmed cynic not to enjoy it.
At the Glasgow Pavilion Aladdin, I felt like a conﬁrmed cynic. In contrast tothe Edinburgh show, it‘s a tacky, lacklustre and uninspired affair. given the air of excitement by a lively pop/rock score. Lucky for them, the audience is ready to enjoy anything, and the atmosphere. even before the curtain has gone up. is wild. The costumes look as old and as faded as the jokes— what few there are, even Andy Cameron is very short on wisecracks — and the best you can say is the show gets through the story with the requisite number of boos and hisses, but is carried primarily by the enthusiasm of the audience. (Mark Fisher) Aladdin. Pavilion,
Glasgow, until Sat 1 Feb. Aladdin, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sat22
Ape at Edinburgh‘s Royal Lyceum. i
Mark Fisher watches as an ape. two clockwork mice and a double-helping of dames take to the seasonal stage.
Raid the orphanage! Snatch those cradles! Get babysitting! Hell. forget the kids altogether and take your office party down to Shinda the Magic
You won’t see such a captivating tale told with such professional sure-footedness anywhere else on the Central Scottish stage this year.
Stuart Paterson‘s all-new play draws on the traditional battle of good versus evil. but cleverly weaves it into a contemporary setting. putting over an unobtrusive message about the nobility of nature and the grossness of human greed. The action cuts from scene to scene with almost filmie realism on Greg Smith‘s deep set, which places the action in suburban back gardens and corrugated iron docklands beneath a moonlit sky. Victoria Hardcastle as Scarab. a lascivious, black-clad baddy in pointy Madonna bra. oozes sexual desire and wickedness in equal measure. but so absorbing is the story and so convincing is its telling that even she has to work hard to raise panto jeers to break the naturalistic spell.
But the greatest spell of all is cast by
mountain gorilla and star of the
show. Shinda. No pantomime horse this. but an entirely credible life-size ape. grunting, rolling and lolloping on all-fours and. played by an unseen Eddie Brittain (surely the sweaticst actor in showbiz). capturing the audience's mesmerised attention for as long as he is on stage. Liberated from the unhappy confines of the city zoo, Shinda is enlisted to work his pure magic over the evil influence of Scarab and ultimately to return to his natural home. Aided by Hugh Hodgart‘s paccy direction. a strong. lively cast and Steve Kettley‘s jazz score. Paterson tells the story with his typical lack of condescension, making a Christmas show that is truly enjoyable for all ages. Don‘t miss.
Down in Stockbridge. Theatre Workshop has also gone for a Christmas show rather than a pantomime. but it is one more specifically aimed at children. The Mouse and his Child. an adaptation of a Russell Hoban story. concerns the adventures of a couple of clockwork toys cast out to fend for themselves in a dangerous world of mafioso rats and merciless shrews. Director Adrian Harris invests the production with a clear sense of movement. aided by Christine Devaney‘s choreography, and he puts a limited budget to good use with scene-setting shadow puppetry and Pete Livingston‘s varied original
Daddies at Theati Workshop (left) and Clyde Unity Theatre (right)
score. Sean Hay stands out as the devious Manny Rat after making a terrifying entrance from the back of the theatre. but the production suffers from weaker peripheral performances which sometimes confuse the story-line. Nonetheless. the young audience remains absorbed and attentive. and there are lots of tension-building opportunities for participation.
An altogether more wild affair. despite promoting the same anti-greed philosophy. is Clyde Unity Theatre‘s Weans ill the Wid, John Binnie’s west coast rewrite of Babes in the Wood. Through sheer enthusiasm and energy. the cast of five make a small audience of adults (I saw it at Edinburgh‘s Netherbow) descend to the level of five-year-olds and produce twice as much noise. There are two dames. played uproariously by Binnie and Stephen Docherty, and like Lorna Brooks‘s new set of songs. they‘re the best I‘ve come across this year. The script also pulls off the rare feat of being very funny without falling back on the standard set of panto jokes. The next-best thing to a full-scale panto. Shitula the Magic Ape, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh. tutti] Sat 4 Jan. The Mouse and his Child. Theatre Workshop, Edinburgh, until Tue 24 Dee.
Weans in the Wld, on tour, until Mon 23 Dec.
SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS
Mitchell Theatre. Until 18 Jan.
With genuine dwarfs and, prepare yourself now, Donald Sinden’s brother, you couldn’t ask for anything more could you? Well, yes you could actually. Dorothy Paul and Denny Willis are the supposed stars of this show and you’d expect them to carry it. Neither of them do: Paul seeming to have little memory of her lines and Willis so laid back as to be virtually horizontal. Maybe it’s the traditional adage, old panto stars never fade away, they just become more blase. Not to be completely negative, Paul does have a nice line in snide put-downs (presumably ad-libbed), but it’s not enough to compensate for lack of knowledge of the script.
There are compensations, though. Len Hannibal’s set design is one of the most attractive at this year’s festive offerings, Denise Borland, as the fairest of them all, has a fine voice and Jamie Rae makes a likeable (if a little too mature) children’s favourite. But the apparent lack of interest from the leads, and a choice of music which,
60 The List 20 December 1991— 16 January 1992
while it thankfully omits any Bryan Adams melodies, is rooted in Radio 2, make the whole experience just too tedious for kids and grown-ups alike. (Philip Parr)
JACK AND THE BEANSTALK
Tron Theatre, Glasgow. Until Sun 12 Jan.
For the Tron’s seasonal romp, Forbes Masson has written a Jack and the Beanstalk for the 90s, set in a Gorbals high-rise where a can of baked beans provides an escape-route from Social Security scams to a land of giant onion-rings. With an all-new set of songs - bearing those Victor and Barry
hallmarks of Broadway harmonies and Kelvinside rhyming-schemes-the show hangs onto many traditional panto trappings —the dame, the free sweets, the fairy’s magic wand - and spices them up with a dash of modern-day realism, from Jack’s plastic mac to Boris Bowiing’s hamburger stall.
Dnly Tom McGovern’s Jack (aka Farquhar Urquart) and Kathryn Howden’s Fairy fluff take over the stage with full panto vigour—the other three actors are a mile restrained - and although there is a steady stream of chuckles, the show could still do with an extra helping of corny jokes. The idea of a cow who believes she is Moira Anderson is funnier in theory than in practice and Myra McFadyen is stuck with a running joke that is only moderately amusing. Nonetheless, the children in the audience are totally enthralled -the opportunity to shout ’flap Jack’ while flapping your arms, helps to raise the temperature — the appearance of the beanstalk is a visual thrill and the final song, Happy Ever After After All, is the first panto tune to stick in my head this year. (Mark Fisher)