IF JOHNNY McKnight is Scotland’s latest crown prince of panto – and he is, popping up everywhere as writer, director and Dame – then it’s clear that some aspects of the old tradition are in very good hands.
Beauty And The Beast - Macrobert, Stirling
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His latest mainstage Christmas show for the MacRobert in Stirling is a dauntlessly rude and topical version of Beauty And The Beast, in which Belle and her brother Sebastian (Belle & Sebastian, geddit?), plus their outrageous single mum Bunty, are about to be evicted from a downtrodden part of Stirling, where the kids cannot even afford to enter the local Glee-style talent contest.
The Beast, meanwhile, is living nearby in a strangely familiar stately home called Bowfin Abbey and if the torrent of Downton, Glee and X-Factor jokes was not enough, the show also evolves into a Grease mash-up, as Dawn Sievewright’s unromantic, nose-picking little Belle morphs into a gorgeous Olivia Newton John lookalike, and wins the love of her Beast-turned-Travolta, a cheerful Martin McCormick.
The jokes, the slapstick, the familiar songs and the box-fresh cultural references are all in place, along with lurid costumes for McKnight as the rapacious Bunty, a great deal of loud competitive farting, and some sharp choregraphy by Karen Martin for the brilliantly-deployed team of 15 local teens who form a key element of the MacRobert panto cast.
On the downside, the show is so loudly, cruelly comic that it almost completely lacks magic and romance, and McKnight’s script is often so self-consciously meta-theatrical that it threatens to swallow its own storyline. Yet the sheer joie-de-vivre of McKnight’s company wins through and if this Beauty And The Beast is neither subtle nor beautiful, it still offers a good, rude explosion of Christmas fun.