★★★★ Comic spectacle
King’s Theatre: Wed 28 Nov 2015 – Sun 17 Jan 2016
Review by Hugh Simpson
Professional pantomime is not the place to go for new theatrical techniques or stunning insights into the human condition.
Instead, what should be expected is a sequence of familiar routines done as well as they can possibly be. This is what is achieved by this year’s King’s effort, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, featuring the established team of Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott.
Sometimes there can be a generic and slightly soulless feel to the pantos supplied by Qdos. Here the pleasingly local and topical references (in a script by Stewart and producer Michael Harrison, with additional material by Alan McHugh and Beth Eden) are bolstered by some language that could puzzle the occasional audience member from such far-off places as London – which is only as it should be.
Naming the dwarfs Gadgie, Reekin or Jakey and references to things being ‘barry’ or ‘pure shan’ are thankfully not done in an apologetic or cringing way but only highlight the sense of fun and local pride that suffuses the whole production.
And there is a great deal of fun here. Some might baulk at the amount of in-jokes and giggling that goes on between Stewart, Stott and Gray, but it is entirely forgivable when it comes from the apparently effortless rapport the three of them have built up over time. Not to forget the sheer enjoyment they obviously derive from working together – an enjoyment that is certainly communicated to the audience.
With few subsidiary characters in the script, the terrible trio are given maximum time on stage, and more than ever this seems to be a partnership of equals. Stott’s Queen Sadista is a more glamorous take on his now established baddie role, and the song and dance element of his part grows in size and accomplishment yearly.
Gray’s stature as one of the last inheritors of the great Scottish variety tradition is also enhanced with each passing year. His character of Hector has no reason to be in the story except to be funny, and his relish of the most contrived routine and expert milking of laughs are evidence of a comedian at the very top of his powers.
To shine in this company, Stewart needs to be on top form as Nurse May. A trap many modern dames fall into is to be too ingratiating and sentimental in an attempt to win over younger audiences. In fact, children just want their dames to be talented, energetic and ludicrous, and there can be no complaints on this score.
It is just as well that Stewart connects so obviously with the youngsters, as the quota of jokes that will fly over their heads has definitely been upped this year. Suffice it to say that one of the dwarfs being a small Boaby is not the only such reference.
Complaining about familiar routines in a panto would be like being annoyed by people singing in a musical, and there is no harm in seeing tongue-twister routines, Stewart riding through the air upside-down or scary monster effects once again.
What does not work so well is the magic mirror – it is here that the desire to get as close to the familiar Disney routines as copyright allows is most glaring, while the technology itself is not dazzling enough to bear the repeated outing it gets.
The use of taller actors to play the dwarfs is now widespread, and is another one of those thorny issues that bedevil the more traditional pantos – even 20th century additions to the canon such as this. Here, led by Gary Tank Commander’s Paul James Corrigan, they display considerable brio and humour.
Greg Barrowman returns as the Prince, and not only has a strong voice (although it has to be said that the music is over-amplified to a desperate degree), he also manages to hold his own in some of the comedy routines. The excellent Frances Mayli McCann is not given nearly enough to do as Snow White, but impresses throughout.
Their central story, while fleshed out more than in many pantomimes, is still perfunctory, particularly in its resolution. This does mean that the longueurs that can afflict even some of the best put together professional pantos are conspicuous by their absence in a zippy production under the direction of Ed Curtis.
Stillie Dee’s choreography and the ensemble are snappy and the youngsters from the Edinburgh Dance Academy are noticeably strong.
What might be missed is the full quota of audience participation, which is a little on the stingy side, although there is an unexpected and welcome opportunity for a singalong. Instead we get the maximum amount of ad-libs and mistakes both genuine and rehearsed, with a climactic routine featuring everything well beyond the kitchen sink.
It is not the only thing here that is turned up resolutely to eleven. Noise, spectacle and comedy are ramped up to something approaching hysteria at times. The end result is an object lesson in how to do big-budget panto and, best of all, very funny indeed.
Running time 2 hours 10 mins including 1 interval
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ
Wednesday 28 November 2015 – Sunday 17 January 2016
Tue-Sat: 7pm; Wed-Sat 2pm; Sun: 1pm, 5pm.
Details and tickets from http://www.edtheatres.com/snowwhite