Theatre review: Sleeping Beauty - King’s Theatre, Glasgow

THEY say that bereavement can be even harder to handle after a year or two; and the big Glasgow pantomime at the King’s seems to have suffered this kind of loss, with the sudden death last year of its great star and tradition-bearer, Gerard Kelly.

In the perennial role of the daft laddie who never gets the girl, Kelly was the panto’s vibrant living link between stage and audience; and last year, his spirit still seemed to linger around the stage, inspiring a fine replacement performance by Gavin Mitchell.

Now, though, the full scale of the loss is becoming apparent, as director Tony Cownie and his crew struggle to find a new balance for a show that has lost its heart. This year’s panto is Sleeping Beauty, featuring a jester role that Kelly made particularly his own; and although the former Brunton star Arron Usher makes a brave stab at filling the part, it seems a little early for Glasgow to embrace a genial, lightweight east coast jester whose style could hardly be more different from Kelly’s. Karen Dunbar, as Sleeping Beauty’s old Nanny, turns in a lovable but lacklustre performance. Lovely Clare Grogan has too little to do as the Wicked Fairy; and Keith Jack, as the handsome prince, gives the kind of performance it’s simply kinder to forget.

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If you add to the mix a script almost entirely bereft both of good new comedy material and of real local satire, you have a tired-looking panto that struggles to achieve a festive mood. It succeeds in the end, thanks to a fine comic turn by Steven McNicoll and Kathryn Howden as the King and Queen, and some hard work by Dunbar and Usher, who keep the show on the road. This year at the Glasgow King’s, though, nothing feels quite right. And perhaps that’s because, at the deepest level, it just isn’t all right without Mr. Kelly; not even in pantoland, where dreams sometimes come true.

Rating: ***