It was a moment of pure joy at Perth Theatre – after four years of closure and rebuilding – when Barrie Hunter’s Widow Twankey came bustling onto the stage in her dressing-gown and curlers, not quite ready for the show, to find herself tasked with the job of getting the theatre well and truly reopened.
Aladdin, Perth Theatre ****
Cinderella, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh ****
Within minutes, the Provost of Perth was up on stage, the ribbon was cut while the whole audience roared “We declare the theatre open!” and the Provost and the Dame were giving us a brief celebration tango to the Strictly Come Dancing theme tune; happy times, at the end of a ten-year project that leaves Perth with a brilliant 21st-century theatre, including a glorious new studio space named after Perth’s late, great artistic director Joan Knight.
Then it was on with the show – notwithstanding a dramatic fire alarm that forced a 20-minute pause while the audience poured out into the High Street and ended with three sturdy Perth firefighters taking a bow, after depositing the actors back in their places on stage using genuine firemen’s lifts.
The show in question is Joel Horwood’s 21st-century version of Aladdin, featuring a rebellious Princess Jasmine who first wants to be Empress in her own right then ends up abolishing all Empires; and it’s good to report that the Perth company, under their artistic director Lu Kemp, deliver the story in style, against a series of backdrops by designer Ana Ines Jabares-Pita that give the show plenty of Perthshire atmosphere.
Hunter remains the best of all Scotland’s younger dames, offering a Widow Twankey as daft as she is well-intentioned. Nicole Sawyerr and Gavin Jon Wright have a touching rapport as Jasmine and Aladdin, both geeky, cheeky and bespectacled; and the audience participation is loud, cheery, frequent and to the point. Horwood’s version of the story – Perthed up, for this occasion, by Scottish playwright Frances Poet – does tend to make too much space for punk villain Abanazar and too little for the hero, Aladdin.
In the end, though, it barely matters; and with the show’s terrific team of tiny Perth dancers dressed as glittering Christmas tree baubles for the grand finale, a great time is had by everyone, from the front stalls to furthest reaches of the newly reopened gods.
The Traverse, meanwhile, celebrates the season by reviving Shona Reppe’s delicious table-top puppet version of Cinderella, first seen in 2002 but still fresh as a daisy, in all its delicate detail.
This is a Cinderella with three speaking characters, plus the puppeteer-narrator, but only one puppet; a raggedy, cold-ridden but completely lovable Cinderella. Her two Ugly Sisters are played by a pair of bright orange and red satin gloves that loll around in a leopard-print-lined box while Cinderella does the dusting and scrubbing; and when Cinders starts to scribble notes asking for help, Rick Conte’s narrator has to turn fairy godfather and get his sparkly hat on.
The result is a gorgeous 55 minutes of fun for children aged around 3-6, full of familiar Cinderella detail but also of fresh perspectives and angles that make the audience squeal with laughter; and the fact that the Prince never appears in person only throws all the more emphasis on Cinderella’s sturdy self-reliance, as she picks up her little suitcase and heads off for a new life at the palace, leaving her sisters wailing in her wake.
Aladdin until 6 January; Cinderella until 24 December.