THE plot is mince, and the circus setting more old-school variety than classic pantomime; but no-one cares this year at the King’s in Edinburgh, as Scotland’s warmest and most party-minded panto audience welcomes back Andy Gray, one of its three great stars, after a year out to undergo cancer treatment. Once described by Richard E Grant as the funniest man alive, Gray has a history in Scottish theatre and television that ranges from Naked Video to River City, and from pantomime to groundbreaking Scottish productions of Dario Fo farces.
Goldilocks and the Three Bears, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh ****
So when he returns to the stage – appearing from behind a flurry of giant pink feather fans wielded by the chorus line, and wearing the sleek red tailcoat and top-hat of circus ringmaster Andy McReekie –it’s hardly surprising the Edinburgh audience can hardly be persuaded to stop cheering, above all when he is reunited with his panto sparring-partners of 20 years, Allan Stewart as Dame May McReekie, and Grant Stott as the horrible Baron von Vinklebottom, boss of a rival circus full of miserably caged animals.
In a sense, it is unfortunate that Gray’s return coincides not with a classic panto story – Cinderella or Aladdin, perhaps – but with this slightly odd tale, co-written for Qdos Entertainment by Allan Stewart and Alan McHugh, of a hard-up circus that thinks it has found commercial salvation when it discovers a family of talking bears, but then loses them again to the schemes of the evil Vinklebottom.
Despite strong casting, the three bears hardly appear; and if we add long variety acts from juggler The Great Alfio and motorcycle acrobats The Berserk Riders, a huge amount of delicious traditional comedy nonsense from Gray, Stott and Stewart, loads of blaringly over-amplified music from the excellent Andy Pickering orchestra, and a menagerie of big animatronic animals of which we barely catch a glimpse, the result is a show that often seems to have bitten off more different elements than it can comfortably chew.
Does it matter, though? Not really; not with new addition to the cast, Jordan Young, acting up a storm as the daft laddie clown in love with Gillian Parkhouse’s Goldilocks, not with the fun and sparkle coming fast and furious. And not, above all, with Edinburgh’s three panto stars back where they belong, in front of the King’s footlights; so that when Andy Gray rolls out his famous catch-phrase “Ah’ve no been very well,” the audience erupts in cheers and applause, raising the roof of the old lady of Leven Street, on a surge of pure Christmas joy.
Until 19 January