First published in The Times, Tuesday January 5 2016
The pantomime at King’s, Edinburgh, has long acquired the status of venerable institution, running to more than 80 performances annually and featuring a triumvirate of stars – Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott – who have appeared together on and off for the past 17 years. Stewart, a variety performer and much-loved dame since 1997, has acknowledged that his character stays more or less the same no matter the script. Certainly, the actor has been performing in the same lavender bouffant wig for at least a decade.
The success of the show may lie largely in its predictability, but this year it feels as though the cast, writers Stewart and Michael Harrison and the creative team have tightened everything up a few notches. Where last year’s Aladdin appeared to run out of puff halfway through the second act, the script for Snow White weaves the essential building blocks of the story together with set piece comedy interludes to create an admirably fat-free entertainment.
Pic: Douglas Robertson
As ever, the comic turns of Stewart as Nurse May, Gray as her dopey sidekick Hector and Stott as Sadista, the Wicked Queen, are front and centre of Ed Curtis’s production, delivering an array of topical and local references, including the inevitable digs at Stott’s beloved Hibernian football club and a song lampooning Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond of the SNP as a pair of superheroes. There’s also a frantic rendition of the Twelve Days of Christmas, complete with pound-shop props that literally bring the curtain down. In a novel departure from tradition, a group of chiselled young male actors play the dwarfs, marching across the stage in costumes with false legs.
The show’s technical aspects also impress, from the auditorium-filling sound delivered by the band under the leadership of Andy Pickering, the musical director, to the visual effects created by the Twins FX. Only the big budget set piece of a huge T-Rex that extends into the stalls for a few moments, jaws agape, seems surplus to requirements. In this production, as in every King’s panto, it’s the age-old gags and catchphrases that get the biggest response.