First published in The Times, Wednesday December 12 2018
Anyone playing pantomime bingo would be shouting “house” long before the end of this year’s show at the Glasgow King’s. The up-for-it audience doesn’t need permission to boo and hiss. No sooner have the fluorescent wristbands and deely boppers been illuminated than the evil Abanazar (George Drennan) is leading the crowd in a chorus of “Oh yes I will!” / “Oh no you won’t!” Before the latecomers have even shuffled into their seats, we’ve heard the gag about Widow Twankey (Elaine C Smith) being “the best scrubber in Old Peking”.
There is much that is familiar in this year’s beano, from the dazzling orange-and yellow colour scheme that infuses the set and costumes, to the traditional final song sheet. Indeed, several of the comic set pieces, including a routine in which Wishee Washee (Johnny Mac) attempts to muscle in on Aladdin’s (Lee Dillon-Stuart) courting of Princess Jasmine (Frances Mayli McCann), resulting in everyone falling backwards off a wall, will stir a strong sense of déjâ vu in anyone who has seen a panto from the Qdos Entertainment stable in recent years. Clearly, it is not just the set and costumes and elements of the script that get recycled from year to year in venues up and down the country.
Pic: Richard Campbell
Nonetheless, the writer Alan McHugh makes various tweaks to the standard story as part of an ongoing attempt to drag the form into the 21st century. McCann’s heroine is granted more agency than your average fairy tale princess, and even steps in to fight her kidnappers when Aladdin is injured. In general, the supporting cast are given more to do in McHugh’s version, with Paul-James Corrigan particularly commanding as the Imperial Palace Guard.
The comic leads still dominate, however, and there is a nice chemistry between Smith as the put upon matriarch and Mac as her wayward son. If the latter reaches for his catchphrase – “I’m enjoying myself!” – a little too often, he has a knack for reading the audience and a gentle rapport with the young children who are enticed to participate in the onstage action.
Pic: Richard Campbell
While McHugh’s script resonates with its strong local flavour, as ever, some of the funniest moments are unscripted. When the cast asks the audience how they should punish the vanquished Abanazar, the verdict from the stalls is almost unanimous: “Kill him!” “Aye, welcome tae Glesga,” says Smith, as the repentant baddie cowers behind her. “Welcome tae Glesga.”