Snow White, Eden Court Theatre, Inverness ****
Aladdin, His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen ***
And of all this year’s large-scale big-city pantos, it’s perhaps Snow White at Eden Court – created by writer-director Steven Wren and his team, with major panto producers Imagine Theatre – that most perfectly hits that balance, with a show that not only makes room for loads of laughs but also gives full weight, in Iain Lauchlan’s script, to the story of Snow White’s life-and-death struggle with her stepmother, the Wicked Queen, who wants Snow White out of the way so that she can remain for ever the most beautiful woman in the land.
It’s a primal tale, well told by lovely Lucy Hutchison as Snow White and Marj Hogarth as the Queen; and around them swirl all the key panto characters, from an ace team of puppet dwarves with Scottish names such as Glaikit, Gallus and Dreich, played by a chorus of Eden Court juniors, to the fine comedy duo of Steven Wren himself as the Dame, Dolly Mixture, and Ross Allan as her slightly gormless son, Jingles the Jester.
In this panto, though, there’s never any doubt, from the opening moments, that the audience are also key players in the drama; the rapport between Allan, Wren and the Inverness audience is all but perfect and the show deploys almost a full set of classic panto devices, from a traditional kitchen slapstick scene to a hilarious behind-you sequence in the wild wood.
The final songsheet seems oddly rushed, with the audience never allowed to build up the right momentum behind the great old chants of “bring doon the cloot” and “we were the best!”, but in every other respect this is the kind of panto of which archetypal childhood and family memories are made, funny, heartfelt, good-looking and full of festive spirit.
Aladdin at His Majesty’s, Aberdeen, also features plenty of traditional panto fun; just try saying “three smart fellas, they felt smart” several times at speed and you’ll begin to glimpse exactly where this year’s panto is coming from – and how it’s brilliant songsheet sequence is likely to end.
Yet a combination of factors – from the presence of a slightly overwhelmed-looking celebrity villain in Jimmy Osmond’s Abanazar to the absence of Elaine C Smith, who has returned to Glasgow King’s leaving behind only the recorded voice of the genie – seems to knock the show slightly off balance; and the decision to have the hero Aladdin played by inspired daft
laddie Jordan Young finally puts the kibosh on any chance of real romantic magic between him and Lisa-Anne Wood’s spirited Princess Jasmine.
Co-writer Alan McHugh’s big, galumphing Dame is as exuberant as ever in this Qdos panto, but the local comedy material seems thin and, with strong romantic storytelling in short supply, this Aladdin – directed by Tony Cownie – often seems to be clobbering the audience over the head with Christmas fun rather than inviting them into it
with that special panto mixture of magic, merriment and love.
•Both until 7 January.