OnStage United Kingdom Critic
We are now into December and nearing the end of 2017. It also means we are now entering the festive period, which only means one thing within theatres in the UK. It's Panto time!
For readers out with the UK, pantomime is a form of Brechtian theatre where traditional fairy tales are brought to life on stage. Pantomime has comedy throughout it, also with dancing and music. Most the music featured in pantomime are hits from years before or maybe even in the current charts. The shows feature a villain, a hero, a comic sidekick and a dame (a man dressed as a woman). It's a show that knows it's a show, actors break character, speak to the audience, the audience respond by booing if it's the villain or screaming phrases like "he's behind you" or "Oh yes it is!" Search pantomime on youtube for more information.
On Wednesday evening I attended the press night for the fairest panto in all the land, the legendary King's theatre, Edinburgh, pantomime. This year's pantomime was an adaption of the classic fairy tale, Cinderella. We all know the story about the girl who's trapped in her evil stepmother's house with her two ugly stepsisters, whose fairy godmother comes to save the day and whisk Cinderella off to the ball to meet the handsome Prince Charming.
This adaptation of the fairy tale was spectacular featuring bright colourful lighting design by Matt Clutterham. Large-scale sets and bright clothes from set designer Ian Westbrook 3D creations. With Ed Curtis directing this gigantic production, it was in capable hands, Curtis has been directing for Qdos Entertainment for eight years, he has directed some of the best pantomime productions to come out of the kings.
The music choice this year was fantastic. In the charts there isn't much choice for what would be acceptable within a pantomime and fit the story. However, Andy Pickering as musical director has successfully managed to help pick the appropriate music for this year's panto, especially a brilliant rework of Ed Sheeran's Shape of you, for a duet between Prince Charming and his right-hand man, Dandini. Loads of original music as well, some may be courtesy of the production company, Qdos Entertainment, who are the best pantomime producers in the world.
The show also featured many spectacular visual effects, including an LED clock, amazing costumes, many worn by the ugly sisters and the dame. Including high quality and bright chorus costume as well. But the visual effects are not over there, at the end of act one (some spoilers ahead) Cinderella's mode of transport is a glorious carriage lit up with white lights and pulled by two white electronic horses. The horses begin moving as Cinderella sits in the coach. Buttons sits up front as the coach driver. Suddenly the carriage moves towards the audience, but not only that, it takes off. The horses and the coach then fly above the audience in the stalls, and it stops just in front of the circle with Andy Gray (Buttons) up front waving at us up there in the circle and Gillian Parkhouse (Cinderella) waving at the audience she can see. It then begins to snow in the theatre, yes really! This is one of the most amazing stage effects I have seen in a theatre. While all this is going on, Allan Stewart is down stage right singing. The best act finale anyone could ask for.
Allan Stewart sparkled as the dazzling Fairy May, Cinderella's fairy godmother, a different role for the dame to normally play however, it was very nice and sweet, really. He owned the stage from his entrance, which was flying in on a star, while singing Whitney Houston's I wanna dance with somebody, yes really. He managed to pull off this number gloriously. His humour and energy throughout the performance were great, even with a few stumbles of the lines. However, for a 67-year-old, he sure can give one hell of a performance, he has the energy of a 21-year-old. He is still my personal favourite dame.
Andy Gray is back as the comic sidekick, this year he plays the legendary panto character, Buttons, Cinderella's friend and Baroness Hibernia's butler. Andy has great comic timing and has the audience in the palm of the hand as soon as he steps on stage, or more like glides on stage, as he entered on a Segway, yes really. Making the audience laugh by just saying a word in a different pitch and tone seems impossible but Andy is a fantastic comic actor, the audience are still in hysterics by the time he's said "I fell" for the 40th time.
Grant Stott stomps his way onto the stage this year as the villainous, sassy, Baroness Hibernia Hardup, Cinderella's evil and tall stepmother. Grant is genuinely the best pantomime villain, even with some technical difficulties, his monologue at the start of the show explaining to the audience how evil he was, was hilarious, featuring references to Edinburgh slang and of course his favourite football team, Hibs (that’s why the villain is called Hibernia), boooo! The only thing I would say is there wasn't enough of his evil antics this year! More stage time in Beauty and the beast please!
Gillian Parkhouse nailed the character of Cinderella, she has the beauty, the stunning voice and the heart of gold to play the girl who goes from rags to riches. Cinderella was mainly involved in the moments which stuck to the true storyline of the original fairytale however there was a few moments which showed a more panto side, such as being continuously pushed off a wall by Fairy May and Buttons, as her and Prince Charming were singing Bryan Adams' (Everything I do) I do it for you. Also, the point where Andy Gray, decided to try and break her freeze frame with Prince Charming. Gillian portrayed this character perfectly and gave it more depth.
Prince Charming was portrayed by James Darch, he definitely was charming, great singing, dancing and many women in the audience were impressed with his looks. Andrew Keay gave a brilliant performance as Dandini, Prince Charming's right-hand-man, the character was desperate to impress and remain loyal to Charming. Not only that when it come to the comic song before the finale of the show he brilliantly got involved in the normal trio's antics.
Clare Gray played Ruth, one half of the ugly sisters, she nailed the naggy, bitterness that an ugly sister should possess, while also, being hilarious. Maureen Carr played Nicola, the second ugly sister, Maureen is well known for her comic character, Edith in Scottish sitcom, Still Game, however on the stage as an ugly sister she burst with energy and colour. It was great to see these two work seamlessly together, they were a hilarious duo. Also liked the political satire with the reference to Nicola Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson.
In need of some festive cheer? Get yourself to the Edinburgh King's Theatre for this glorious spectacle of a pantomime, filled with music, dancing and great comic routines. Pantomime should be an international form of theatre, but I still think that the King's will always produce the best panto in the world. Especially with Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott at the helm. Faultless family fun, 5/5 stars for this year's trip to pantoland.
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