IN the foyer at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, stands a model of Gerard Kelly’s famous panto boots, fashioned in gold.
It’s just five years since Kelly’s sudden death robbed the Glasgow panto of its greatest ever “daft laddie”. Yet the presence of the boots is a measure of this panto’s special role as a bearer of the great Scottish pantomime tradition; and this year’s glorious version of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs – funny, picturesque, and good-hearted – reveals that tradition in thriving good health.
Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs | Rating: **** | King’s Theatre, Glasgow
Flora’s Fairy Challenge | Rating: *** | Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow
It’s not that this year’s panto, written and directed by Eric Potts, is short of contemporary references. The seven dwarfs, for example – played here by super-talented small performers – are involved in a Britain’s Got-Talent-type show; and there are a few Nicola Sturgeon jokes.
The show’s great strength, though, lies in its terrific core ensemble of players, led by Des Clarke as the “daft laddie” Muddles – channelling Gerard Kelly down to fine details of the body-language – with a magnificently glamorous and witty Juliet Cadzow as the wicked Queen Morgiana, and a quietly hilarious Gregor Fisher as the useless palace servant Hector. The sets are like something out of a pop-up fairytale book, Jenny Hayley-Douglas is a delicious Snow White; and some of the best panto traditions are played out with terrific gusto, including a superbly daft ghost scene, and a great final song-sheet, led by Des Clarke, that almost literally raises the roof.
Down among the tiny tots, meanwhile, Scotland now has a booming Christmas show scene for children aged six and under; and this year, the Citizens’ Theatre rolls out another brand new studio show for younger children. Written by Andy McGregor and Marianne Yeomans, Flora’s Fairy Challenge tells the beguiling tale of Flora from Auchtermuchty, played with terrific energy by Stephanie McGregor. Flora is a sturdy but often fearful girl in a sweater, who sets off for the North Pole in the hope of getting a selfie with Santa to add to her collection, only to be waylaid by the information that Santa’s sleigh has run out of the fairy dust that makes it fly, and all the world’s children are relying on Flora to find some more.
Theatrically, Andy McGregor’s solo staging of the story misses a couple of slightly obvious tricks, notably the magical chance to show a little puppet Santa-sleigh flying off successfully at the end; and the set for the North Pole Factory where Flora finally concocts the fairy dust has a slightly strange relationship with the narrative, offering so much information that a feisty audience of five-year-olds spent most of the show well ahead of the story.
The show scores magnificently, though, when it comes to audience participation, drawing the children into the heart of the adventure as helpers, advisers and cheerleaders; and there’s a truly blissful moment when the fairy dust recipe finally works, and little magic flakes of it begin to fall from on high, dropping a seasonal blessing on us all.
• Snow White until 10 January; Flora’s Fairy Challenge until 31 December.