It’s the busiest month in the theatre calendar – oh, yes it is – and every company has something different to offer. Whether you’re after traditional glitz, subversive fun or a break from the Christmas overkill, there’s a show out there for you, writes Mark Fisher
IF YOU LIKE TO GET IN FIRST
Look, kids, it’s not a race. There’s plenty of time before the big day. You can open your presents in good time. But if you really can’t wait to boo the baddie, dance in your seat and join in the community singalong, there are three companies as eager as you are to make merry. The most eager of all is Motherwell Theatre, which launched its Aladdin (until 5 January) nearly a week ago. Snapping at its heels is the Palace Theatre, Kilmarnock, which yesterday Snow White opened (until 30 December). It all makes this Tuesday’s opening of Puss In Boots at the Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh (27 November–5 January) look positively sedate.
IF YOU LIKE JOHNNY McKNIGHT
We’ve been calling him the rising star of Scottish panto for a few years, but it’s pretty clear Johnny McKnight is now well and truly risen. Whether as writer, director or dame – or all three at once – the mainstay of Glasgow’s Random Accomplice embodies everything that’s great about Scottish pantomime. And this year, he’s everywhere. At Stirling’s MacRobert, he has updated his version of Cinderella (28 November–31 December); for Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum, he’s written a musical version of the same story (29 November–29 December); and at Glasgow’s Tron, he is writing, directing and starring in Aganeza Scrooge (30 November–5 January), a sideways take on Dickens with a cracking female ensemble of Anita Vettesse, Michele Gallagher, Helen McAlpine and Sally Reid.
IF YOU LIKE BIG-CITY GLAMOUR
For generations of theatregoers, pantomime is synonymous with the lavish variety shows at the King’s theatres in Glasgow and Edinburgh. If you want an introduction to the raucous humour, colourful costumes and showbiz dance routines that define a traditional Scottish pantomime, these are the places to start. In Glasgow, the King’s is presenting Cinderella (30 November–6 January) with the fabulous Karen Dunbar, Des Clarke and Gavin Mitchell. In Edinburgh, audiences are treated to Mother Goose (1 December–20 January) with the dream-team regulars of Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott.
IF YOU LIKE SOMETHING FOR THE WEE ONES
Knockabout entertainment is all very well, but it can go over the heads of very young children. That’s why the supply of tot-friendly theatre is increasing by the year. Best place to start is Stirling’s MacRobert, which is offering The Polar Bears Go Wild (4–30 December), an adventure for the under-fives by Glasgow’s Fish and Game, as well as Multi-Coloured Blocks From Space (4–24 December), an art and sound installation for babies and toddlers. First seen at the MacRobert last year, the CATS award-winning Too Many Penguins will now delight a very young audience at Edinburgh’s Traverse (11–22 December). Also recommended is The Christmas Quangle Wangle by Lickety Spit at North Edinburgh Arts Centre (6–15 December), The Ugly Duckling by Catherine Wheels at the Arches, Glasgow (30 November–30 December) and two shows by Grinagog Theatre Company: Twinkle Bell at the Citizens, Glasgow (8–30 December) and Little Ulla on tour (28 November–23 December).
IF YOU LIKE TV NAMES
On telly, she’s famous as Rab C Nesbitt’s Mary Doll. On stage, she’s famous as Susan Boyle in I Dreamed A Dream. And in Aberdeen, she’s famous as the lynchpin of the HMT panto. Elaine C Smith is back again this year in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (1 December–6 January) written by Alan McHugh, who’s also responsible for Mother Goose at Perth Theatre (7 December–5 January). If celebrity-spotting is your thing, you could check out John Barrowman and the Krankies in Jack And The Beanstalk at the SECC, Glasgow (15 December–6 January); various stars of CBBC, River City and Still Game in Cinderella at the Alhambra, Dunfermline (19 December–6 January); and faces from River City, Gary: Tank Commander and the Irn Bru blind date advert in Sleeping Beauty at the Adam Smith Theatre in Kirkcaldy (7 December–12 January). Fact fans may note that Mother Goose at Eden Court in Inverness (4 December–6 January) is written by Iain Lauchlan and Will Brenton who created the Tweenies.
IF YOU LIKE A GREAT STORY
Putting emphasis on the fairy-tale narrative can produce a more emotionally satisfying show. That’s what you can expect at Glasgow’s Citizens, where Dominic Hill is directing a Sleeping Beauty (1 December–6 January) described as “Tim Burton meets Shrek”, and at Dundee Rep, where director Jemima Levick takes us to the icy heart of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen (4 December–5 January). Meanwhile, Pitlochry Festival Theatre is going down the musical route with a staging of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (30 November–23 December).
IF YOU LIKE AN OLD STORY UPTURNED
Nobody ever visited Glasgow’s Pavilion for its reverential approach to the classics, so don’t be surprised if The Wizard Of Never Woz (28 November–19 January) takes a liberty or two with a favourite story. In this version, Radio Clyde’s Shebahn Littlejohn stars as Dorothy setting out not from Kansas, but Govan, meeting Scatty Scarecrow, Tarnished Tin Man and Scardie Cat Lion along the way.
IF YOU LIKE FAMILY-FRIENDLY DANCE
Choreographers love Christmas as much as the rest of us, hence the popularity of Robert North’s version of The Snowman, back for another run at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre (13–30 December) and Ashley Page and Antony McDonald’s staging of The Nutcracker for Scottish Ballet at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal (8–29 December and on tour in January).
IF YOU LIKE IT AT LUNCHTIME
It’s been another triumphant year for Glasgow’s lunchtime theatre season, A Play, A Pie And A Pint, so time for a well-deserved knees up with Aladdin And Wee Jeannie at Oran Mor (3–22 December). Expect silliness, irreverence and political satire courtesy of Dave Anderson and David MacLennan.
IF YOU LIKE IT UP-CLOSE AND PERSONAL
Last year, the National Theatre of Scotland built a complete room in the old Govan Town Hall to lend an especially intimate and spooky air to A Christmas Carol. Graham McLaren’s awesome production won two CATS awards and is back in the same room but a different location: the Old Kirk, Kirkcaldy (7–30 December). Highly recommended.
IF YOU LIKE THE RETURN OF AN OLD FRIEND
Ayr’s Gaiety Theatre has been out of action for nearly four years, so Cinderella (11 December–6 January) will be especially welcome. Audiences will get a first look at the refurbished and re-imagined building as River City’s Gary Lamont leads the cast as Prince Charming.
IF YOU LIKE VALUE FOR MONEY
Why settle for one story when at Cumbernauld Theatre you can get ten? Ed Robson’s The Night Before Christmas (30 November–24 December) retells favourites such as Hansel And Gretel, Puss-in-Boots and The Emperor’s New Clothes in a single sitting. And no ticket costs more than a tenner.
IF YOU LIKE IT YOUTHFUL
Christmas may be for the kids, but that doesn’t stop young people entertaining the grown-ups with shows of their own. Scottish Youth Theatre is at the Lemon Tree in Aberdeen with It Wasn’t Me, It Was Goldilocks (3–24 December) as well as at its base in Glasgow with Oh Crumbs, Scary Biscuits (30 November–24 December). Edinburgh’s Strange Town has a five-show residency at the Scottish Storytelling Centre with tongue-in-cheek seasonal offerings including 1001 Nights at Widow Twankey’s B&B (8 & 9 December), Dick McWhittington And His Cat (6 & 7 December) and Whatever Ever After (8 & 9 December). Meanwhile, Edinburgh’s Lyceum Youth Theatre is branching out into fashionable Summerhall with two shows going under the banner of Deck The (Summer) Halls (14 December) and you can expect extra helpings of youthful energy in PACE’s 25th anniversary production of Jack And The Beanstalk at Paisley Arts Centre (30 November–31 December).
IF YOU LIKE SOMETHING LESS SEASONAL
So you fancy a good night out, but you’re not big on fairy-tales and audience participation. Step forward Edinburgh’s Traverse, where artistic director Orla O’Loughlin is teaming up with Peepolykus for The Arthur Conan Doyle Society (6–22 December), a not-entirely-serious investigation into why the creator of Sherlock Holmes had such a belief in spiritualism. «