On a cold Edinburgh night, the vast Festival Theatre, that is this year’s home to the traditional King’s panto, manages to seem cosy and intimate as crowds take their seats to cheery festive music while giant projections of snowflakes swirl all around.
Paraphrasing the famous words of the Wicked Queen in the original story, played by Liz Ewing as Queen Drogonella in this version, the stage curtain tells us this is the ‘Fairest Panto in the Land.’ What unfolds instead of the implied gentleness is a glorious festival of subversion and irreverence safely contained on stage. This company are of course masters of their craft with many years of experience from Allan Stewart in his long running role as Dame, Nurse May and Grant (‘mon the Hibs) Stott as arch villain Lord Lucifer. Jordan Young as loveable fall guy Muddles has proved to be a more than worthy replacement for the late great Andy Gray, whose daughter Clare as Princess Lavinia brings family continuity while completing a quality quartet.
The script shows sensitivity with Snow White, beautifully captured by Francesca Ross, having ‘hair as black as ebony and a heart as white (rather than skin) as snow’ and handsome Prince Hamish, played by Brian James Leys, appearing throughout the tale and not just as a Johnny Come Lately hero to save the day. In balance, there are plenty of nods to Disney’s groundbreaking 1937 animated film with songs like ‘Hi Ho, Hi Ho’ from the men described in this show as the Magnificent Seven, and Snow White’s ‘day’ dress chiming nicely with Disney’s 84 year old creation thanks to designer Mike Coldman who deserves praise for Nurse May’s Teacake outfit and the ensemble’s incredible snowflake costumes among the general sartorial kaleidoscope of colour.
The show is jam packed with all the familiar favourites that writers Harry Michaels and Allan Stewart weave into each panto set in Auchtereekie such as song title medleys; tongue twisters; local jokes; Jordan’s memory feat; breaking the 4th wall; reference to their lives beyond pantoland; hilarious innuendo that (hopefully!) goes over the heids o the weans and literally outstanding giant effects from The Twins FX that never fail to delight and awe in equal measure.
Another wee nod to current sensibilities comes with a scene where Nurse May and the dance ensemble appear dressed like clones of Grayson Perry’s alter ego Claire singing There is Nothin Like a Dame that’s followed by an uproarious ‘tribute’ to the FM. (Nae spoilers!)
The troupe may be performing in a larger space than usual but rather than rattling around in it, has expanded its collective chest to inhabit the new venue where there is a twist to the traditional plot (again nae spoilers!), but everyone is still happy in the end!
After a couple of hours of happy shouting, the reaction of my young companion was a resounding “It was phenomenal!”
Runs till 22nd January 2023.