YOU can be as satirical and ironic as you like, around the Scottish panto scene; or venture far into the realms of Christmas children’s theatre, with varying results. When it comes to rollicking good night out for all the family, though, it’s difficult to beat a good old traditional pantomime, that strange festive mixture of fairytale magic, rude jokes, daft comedy routines and loud audience participation that can tolerate no end of variety and updating, without losing its essential sparkle; and here, this Christmas, are a couple of shows that perfectly demonstrate the sheer fun and flexibility of the genre.
Beauty and the Beast, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh ****
Snow White and the Seven Dames, Perth Theatre ****
At the King’s in Edinburgh things are inevitably not quite the same, this year, with the theatre’s much-loved pantomime daftie Andy Gray out of the show because of illness; but still, it’s hard not to admire the panto’s remaining two stars – Allan Stewart and Grant Stott–- for the flair and energy with which they make their Edinburgh-accented version of Beauty And The Beast work anyway, in his absence.
What they produce, in essence, is a #metoo (or #meanaw) version of the story, which foregrounds Grant Stott’s performance as nasty villain Flash Boaby – the wide-boy villager who takes a fancy to Belle, and is determined to do away with the Beast who has stolen her heart – alongside Stewart’s pretty and feisty Dame, castle cook May Potty, who has a feeling that Belle may be the right girl for the Beast.
With Flash Boaby not above a bit of sexual harassment and hate speech, the show sometimes takes on a strikingly contemporary tone, despite the lushly traditional sets in this production by UK-wide panto-makers Qdos. Yet it’s all delivered with lashings of good humour, plenty of music, a touch of romantic magic, and – courtesy of Stott – layer upon layer of Hearts and Hibs jokes, made to delight an Edinburgh audience, and send them happily out into the night.
Perth Theatre’s version of the Snow White story, written by the fine Glasgow playwright Frances Poet, also has a contemporary twist, as it dispenses with the seven dwarves, and replaces them with one single actor who somehow - opposite Barrie Hunter’s magnificent Dame Sassy - manages to play all six of her sisters. It’s a feat that’s not so much about suspension of disbelief, more about a happy acceptance of total absurdity; and even more boldly, Poet’s script has the Dames working not in a goldmine, but in a pit owned by the Dunfrackin Corporation, which has caused massive environmental damage to the kingdom of Perthfect, and is now being shaken by earthquakes.
For all that, though – or perhaps because of it – Snow White And The Seven Dames is mostly a traditional happy family show, with far fewer rude jokes than its Edinburgh cousin (although there are some), and plenty of classic panto wickedness from Helen Logan as the wicked queen who wants Snow White wiped off the Perthfect map.
The script is sometimes a little too verbally clever for its own theatrical good, but Emma Mullen’s Snow White is a fine 21st century heroine, in search of friendship rather than love; and with a rich playlist of current hits, and three teams of local youngsters providing terrific support as a chorus of friendly dancing moles, Barrie Hunter’s first show as director of the Perth panto emerges as a joyful Christmas treat, bright, witty, goodhearted, and full of fun.
Beauty And The Beast is at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, until 20 January; Snow White And The Seven Dames is at Perth Theatre until 5 January.