Theatre reviews: Snow White | Cinderella

Snow White at the Byre offers a hilarious blast of panto fun, while Cinderella at Dundee Rep will suit those in the mood for some more thoughtful seasonal theatre, writes Joyce McMillan

Snow White, Byre Theatre, St Andrews ****

One of the joys of pantomime is its link to anarchy, disorder, misrule; the once-a-year-day disruption of social norms, and the consequent chance to roar, yell, shriek with laughter, and generally let off steam. None of Scotland’s current panto Dames understands this subversive element of the tradition better than the wonderful Alan Steele, who plays Snow White’s Nanny Ticklepenny in this year’s Bard In The Botanics pantomime at the Byre. As ever, she sashays around the stage in outrageous style, convinced of her charms despite massive evidence to the contrary, doling out insults to other east coast locations from Dundee to Dunfermline, and lavishing her flirtatious attentions on blushing male members of the audience; and this year, she forms the centrepiece of a truly joyous Byre panto, full of rebellious energy, and featuring some terrific song and dance numbers choreographed by Stephen Arden, who also plays the dreadful wicked queen, Lucretia Visage.

Hannah Visocchi in Cinderella at Dundee Rep PIC: Tommy Ga-Ken WanHannah Visocchi in Cinderella at Dundee Rep PIC: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
Hannah Visocchi in Cinderella at Dundee Rep PIC: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

In this version of Snow White, our heroine – played in tremendous style by Stephanie McGregor – is a stroppy teenager with no interest in marrying a prince, or indeed in princessing around at all. She prefers her books, at least until she meets Robert Elkin’s shy but kindly Prince Valiant; and when she heads off to the forest to escape the murderous intentions of her wicked stepmother, she meets not a team of dwarves, but ten incredibly mouthy care-experienced tweenagers – played by two alternating teams from the Byre’s Youth and Community Project – whom the wicked queen has chucked out of their orphanage.

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It’s certainly not the most lyrical Snow White you will ever see; but with professional cast members at a premium – there are only six, although it’s often hard to believe it – writer and director Gordon Barr whips the story up into a hilarious two-hours of 21st century panto fun, packed with laughter, music, and riotous audience participation. And if you want to experience a real moment of panto joy, this year, just check out this show’s first act finale, in which Snow White and the forest crew first recognise each other as kindred spirits, and belt out a terrific all-dancing version of You’re Gonna Hear Me Roar, to mark the occasion.

Much less uproarious – and indeed much less of a panto – is Dundee Rep’s restrained and thoughtful new version of Cinderella, co-created by playwright Lynda Radley and composer Michael John McCarthy, and directed by Jemima Levick. Set on a farm worked by the orphaned Cinderella – with little or no help from her self-indulgent step-siblings Florence and Laurence, both wannabe internet influencers, or from her wicked stepmother Lenore – this new play-with-songs tackles the complex subject of how Cinderella’s desperate efforts to make the farm more productive are gradually exhausting the soil on which her life depends.

In her lonely self-reliance, Ella needs to accept help, notably from her friend Liam, who loves her and understands soil science; but she finds it hard, even after the spirit of her lovely long-dead mother helps her to take a night off, and go to a ball held by Liam’s father – who just happens to the the plutocrat plotting with Lenore to buy the farm for a housing development.

Perhaps not surprisingly, all of this complex content proves a little much, for a light-touch Christmas show; and this Cinderella often seems stranded somewhere between the pantomime mood traditionally associated with Cinderella, and a fairly serious play, short both on laughs, and on joyful fourth-wall shattering audience participation. Yet the show is packed with interesting ideas and beautiful songs, featuring live music played by the cast and musical director Isaac Savage; and if you’re in the mood for some thoughtful seasonal theatre, rather than a blast of panto fun, then Cinderella at the Rep could well be the show for you.

Both until 31 December