Theatre reviews: Dixie Whittington: The Hamecoming, Oran Mor, Glasgow | How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

GET your pie and a big glass of wine, and settle in; for the Oran Mor Christmas show, pride of Glasgow’s West End, is a panto for adults, in the very best sense. This year’s offering – written and directed by A Play, A Pie And A Pint’s inimitable joint artistic director, Morag Fullarton – is a waggish new female-led version of the Dick Whittington story, in which Dixie, a talented singer from Partick with a talking stuffed cat, is about to give up her quest for fame and fortune in London, when she meets Dame Dora Dumplin’, the highly satirical cook aboard a ship at the nearby docks.

Amy Scott is a great Dixie Whittington who is set to give up on London fame while Dave Anderson is sarky Dame Dora Dumplin
Amy Scott is a great Dixie Whittington who is set to give up on London fame while Dave Anderson is sarky Dame Dora Dumplin

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.

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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.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas has style and a gifted cast, even if the songs arent up to much

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.

JOYCE MCMILLAN

Dixie Whittington at Oran Mor, Glasgow, until 28 December; How The Grinch Stole Christmas at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, until 1 December