First published in The Times, Monday November 30 2015
The Little Mermaid: Four Stars
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Three Stars
With its red-haired heroine, shimmering backcloth and bold, primary-coloured costumes, this year’s Christmas show at the Macrobert owes as much of a debt of influence to Walt Disney as it does to Hans Christian Andersen. The witty, up-to-date script and irreverent atmosphere are very much in keeping with what we’ve come to expect from the Stirling panto, however. We’ve barely taken our seats before Drop Dead Gorgeous Daz (played by Robert Jack in the same fright wig he wore last year as Wishee Washee) lets off the show’s first fart gag, and this pretty much sets the tone for the next two hours.
As ever, we’re in the capable hands of pantomime auteur Johnny McKnight, who not only writes, directs and gets to model a range of blancmange-like costumes as dame and de facto star Marina, queen of the underwater realm, but also has a chance to flex his tentacles and employ his best villainous cackle in the dual role of Ursulla, brassy sea witch and Marina’s evil twin.
Pic: Paul Watt
Sure, there’s a plot, in which Ariel (Kara Swinney) competes with her malevolent auntie for the love of a pirate captain (the wonderfully gormless Miguel Belotto), but this is of secondary importance to the energetic musical numbers, choreographed by Karen Martin, and the comic antics of McKnight, Jack, Dawn Sievewright as Ariana and Helen McAlpine’s sinister seahorse. McKnight breaks the fourth wall with eye-watering audacity, dishing out cheek like sweeties, which the audience enthusiastically laps up.
The closest we get to audience participation in the Royal Lyceum’s production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe comes in the opening moments, when a cloud of dry ice billows out over the front row. Theresa Heskins’s stage adaptation of CS Lewis’s novel understandably makes for an altogether more circumspect – if equally engaging – category of festive show.
The primary achievement of Andrew Panton’s production is the elegant simplicity of the presentation, on an open stage, with a few props ingeniously deployed to conjure up set pieces such as the journey through the wardrobe, the tea party at Mr Tumnus’s cottage and the first encounter between Edmund (Christian Ortega) and the White Witch (Pauline Knowles, in menacing form).
Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
The wintry atmospherics and scene transformations are further facilitated by Simon Wilkinson’s lighting designs, particularly in the impressive battle sequence. If there’s something a little underwhelming about Ben Onwukwe’s Aslan, Panton keeps the action moving along apace, with bouts of earnestness offset by the humorous antics of Lewis Howden as the baddie’s sidekick and John Kielty and Gail Watson as Mr and Mrs Beaver.