STAGING a big family panto is a difficult business, no question: a feat of co-ordination that involves music, dance, storytelling, slapstick, comedy, star performances, lashings of audience participation, and a special quality of local belonging that always looms large in the very best pantos.
Beauty And The Beast
His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen
Lemon Tree, Aberdeen
And if you want to see all of these panto ducks pulled into a row – firmly, effectively, and with a joyful sense of living tradition – then there’s no doubt that the place to be in Scotland at the moment is His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen, where they take big standard Qdos pantos firmly in hand, and transform them into brilliant afternoons and evenings of north-eastern family entertainment.
So in this year’s show – produced by Michael Harrison, written by Alan McHugh and directed by Sam Kane – we see the well-established His Majesty’s team of Elaine C Smith, Alan McHugh and Jordan Young seize the tale of Beauty And The Beast, and drop-kick it straight through goal-posts of panto success.
Beauty And The Beast is one of the most magical and romantic of all panto stories, and Ian Westbrook’s Qdos design does it full justice, conjuring up the echoing halls of the Beast’s loveless castle, and the garden where hope springs up with the roses; and the Aberdeen panto, which features a lovely Belle in Maggie Lynne, gives the romantic story its rightful place at the heart of the show.
Elaine C Smith travels easily between the romantic story and the comic subplot as the Beast’s kindly housekeeper Mrs Potty and Alan McHugh and Jordan Young are in ripe comic form as Belle’s daft friends Kitty and Boabby.
The music is fine, Elaine C is in magnificent voice, the kids of the Aberdeen Academy of Dance hoof the night away in brilliant style; and the local jokes and references are firmly in place, including McHugh’s hilarious spoof Beach Boys song, Surfing Cruden Bay.
At the Lemon Tree, meanwhile, the award-winning children’s company Frozen Charlotte offers an attractive 45-minute show for younger children in the shape of Robin, the tale of a friendly robin redbreast who decides to help out with the post on Christmas Eve.
The central feature of the show is the pretty, model-village-like set, by Katy and Neil Wilson and Kirsty Roberts, which shows Robin’s hometown as a little winding hill town with door numbers like an advent calendar, up and down which puppet versions of the characters make their way – particularly Robin, as he delivers huge bags of letters to the mysterious house at the top, No 24.
In its present form this charming show has two problems, in that the actor playing Robin, Ben Clifford, looks nothing like a robin, and the story lacks clear structural opportunities for the audience to join in and help.
With some tweaking of the script, though, and a few clearer visual signals about Robin’s status as a talking bird, this show could mature into a delightful Christmas classic; and it features some heroic work from Clifford’s co-performer Laurie Brown, who plays all the other puppet characters in the story, from behind the many doors of a truly gorgeous set.
Seen on 14.05.14
• Beauty and the Beast until 4 January; Robin until 31 December