Dixie Whittington: The Hamecoming, Oran Mor, Glasgow **** | How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh *** In no time at all, poor Dixie has been tricked with false promises of a voyage back to Glasgow into boarding the ship, which promptly sets sail for the Caribbean, with dastardly Captain Cut-Thrapple at the helm; meanwhile the hilariously self-absorbed explorer-hero Inverary Jones, who has fallen in love with Dixie on the London dockside, is pursuing the ship on a makeshift raft, helped by a benign mermaid who announces herself as Susie The Single Fish.
Well, you get the picture: it’s all immensely silly, tremendous fun, spiced with the odd powerful political joke – often courtesy of Dave Anderson, as a melancholy Dame Dora – and laced with a hilarious selection of maritime songs, from Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat, to a truly absurdist but oddly powerful version of La Mer, delivered in style by John Kielty as Inverary. Amy Scott is a gorgeous and highly humorous Dixie, fond of the odd chorus of Cock-Eyed Optimist from South Pacific; Clare Waugh is superb as both Susie the Single Fish and Captain Cut-Thrapple, who achieves his finest moment when he whips out his musket and shoots his limelight-seeking ship’s steward (Craig McLean), for a spot of intrusive Irish dancing.
In other words, if you want a daft, light-hearted respite from the current general election campaign – devoid of serious meaning, yet never less than brilliantly witty and self-aware – then this year’s Oran Mor panto is the show for you; one that will make you laugh, and will stop well short of making you laugh until you cry.
Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre, meanwhile, plays host to the touring UK premier of How The Grinch Stole Christmas: The Musical, the 1994 show based on the same Dr Seuss story, first published in 1957, that also inspired the 2000 film. This stage version is a brief and blunt retelling of the story, barely two hours long including an interval, and less than convincing in its emotional and narrative detail; and the biggest fan of stage musicals would struggle to describe its playlist of songs – with lyrics by Tim Mason and music by Mel Marvin – as much more than a series of forgettable bubblegum show-tunes, with The Grinch’s One Of A Kind as the sole possible exception.
What the show has in quantities, though, is style, and the wholehearted commitment of a hugely gifted cast of 20. John Lee Beatty’s sketchbook sets and Robert Morgan’s sugar-plum costumes are endlessly fascinating, with the show’s tiny heart-melting heroine Cindy Lou dressed up like a vintage Edwardian doll; only Edward Baker-Duly’s memorably sociopathic Grinch, with his long green fur, and the older and younger versions of his kindly but loyal dog Max, really break the pinky-white colour-code.
There’s a live band playing its heart out, plenty of fine singing and dancing, and a properly Christmassy conclusion; and there’s also – unannounced in the programme – a benign Gregor Fisher of Rab C Nesbit fame, introducing the show, and kicking it off by reading the first few pages of the story to a bunch of lucky Edinburgh kids, invited to join him on stage.
Dixie Whittington at Oran Mor, Glasgow, until 28 December; How The Grinch Stole Christmas at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, until 1 December