Theatre reviews: Sleeping Beauty | Cinderella II – I Married A Numpty

Sleeping Beauty at the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh is undeniably spectacular, but for perfectly-balanced satirical panto look no further than Oran Mor’s Cinderella II, writes Joyce McMillan

Sleeping Beauty at the King's, Edinburgh
Sleeping Beauty at the King's, Edinburgh

Sleeping Beauty ****

Cinderella II - I Married A Numpty *****

There are pantomimes, and then there are meta-pantomimes; or rather, every pantomime is a meta-panto to some extent. It’s in the loosely-structured nature of panto that this is an art-form supremely capable of sending itself up; and the only question, for every panto performer and director, is where to draw the line, between mockery and magical storytelling.

The Edinburgh King’s panto of 2021 – a production of Sleeping Beauty from Crossroads Pantomimes – is certainly a show with plenty to be warm-hearted and emotional about. It not only features a touching modern version of the tale in which Princess Aurora is truly in love with the court jester Muddles, who gets the girl in the end; it is also the first King’s panto since the tragic death, earlier this year, of the Edinburgh panto team’s inspired comic linchpin Andy Gray, a mighty star of Scottish comedy and theatre since the 1980s.

So it’s perhaps to the credit of the company that rather than milking the show for sentimental magic, they boldly veer off in the opposite direction, delivering a fast-moving and sometimes breathtakingly spectacular show that essentially mocks the hell out of the the entire panto genre, apart from a brief and poignant moment of memorial at the end, when the cast agree – for the late King Andy’s sake – to allow a happy ending, even for the wicked witch Carabosse.

The result is a show that makes life awkward for those trying to sustain the romantic plot, but creates plenty of space for riots of fun and spectacle. I found it hard to envy Sia Dauda’s lovely, sparky Princess Aurora, demoted to a relatively lowly status in her own fairytale; but impossible to resist Grant Stott’s Carabosse and Allan Stewart’s charming and glamorous Queen May, particularly when, with Jordan Young as Muddles, they launch themselves into a positively perplexing tongue-twister sequence involving poisonous pythons in a pit in Prestonpans. The sight of Carabosse’s dazzling mirrored gown for the finale is worth the ticket price in itself; and when it comes laced with a constant stream of pretty good Hibs jokes, delivered in a growly baritone – well, so much the better, as King Andy would doubtless have agreed.

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The Play, Pie And Pint season at Oran Mor, by contrast, has long been dedicated to the cause of the cheeky and perfectly-balanced satirical panto for adults; and this year’s splendid effort involves a return by writer, director and panto genius Morag Fullarton to her 2017 show Cinderella II - I Married A Numpty, in which a down-to-earth Glasgow Cinderella, magnificently played by Hannah Howie, realises after six weeks of marriage that her princely husband is a posh possessive git, and pure boring. Her sanity therefore depends on immediate escape, with her true love, the servant-boy Buttheid, back to the home of her beloved Auntie Etta Dick, played at short notice – and with something close to panto-dame genius – by George Drennan, after the mighty Dave Anderson suffered a bout of Covid.

The show begins with a rousing number titled It’s Not Just For Kids Anymore, and proceeds for 70 minutes at a whirlwind pace, taking in much well-judged Boris-bashing, and a sequence featuring Cinders as Wonder Woman that’s worthy of study by linguists, for its exhilarating Scots-Californian brilliance. Kevin Lennon is superb as Prince and Buttheid, Clare Waugh hilarious as glamorous villain Wan-Tooth Winnie, the music is terrific, and in contrast to Edinburgh, there is a rousing traditional final song-sheet, complete with compe-ma-tition. So what’s not to like, this year at Oran Mor? Absolutely nothing; and if you're not one of the lucky ticket-holders, then try to become one, whatever it takes.

Sleeping Beauty is at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, until 16 January; Cinderella II - I Married A Numpty is at Oran Mor, Glasgow, until 31 December

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