First published in The Times, Monday December 17 2018
Manchester’s loss is Glasgow’s gain. Last Christmas, the legendary comedy pairing of Ian and Janette Tough aka the Krankies, along with their performing partner-in-crime John Barrowman, hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons when their innuendo-laden production of Dick Whittington at the Manchester Opera House attracted a barrage of complaints from outraged panto-goers.
Clearly, the Glaswegian audience is made of sterner stuff. The title of this year’s Qdos-produced spectacular may have changed, but the double- entendres and downright smut remain reassuringly intact. The adults in the audience lap up the cruder material while their charges wriggle in their seats.
Nonetheless, when Janette gets the comedic bit between her teeth, whether in her role as Buttons, or in the cap-and-shorts garb of Wee Jimmy Krankie, she can still get the kids rolling in the aisles. Her performance of He’s Always Picking On Me, a music hall-style complaint about her bullying sidekick, is a master class in how to engage wee ones: cheeky and petulant but beautifully timed and paced. When she is called upon to act, there is something sweet and tragic about her Buttons, who is hopelessly devoted to Gemma Lawson’s Cinders but doomed to play second fiddle to Prince Charming (Keith Jack).
A large portion of the show’s second act is given over to a virtuoso routine that manages to feel spontaneous even if many in the audience have heard the jokes and seen the visual antics before. The most telling (and rapturously received) punch line comes when Ian asks Wee Jimmy why he’s not at school. “Because I’m 71 years of age,” comes the blunt reply.
Barrowman may have swapped the stage for the Australian outback this festive season, but the Krankies have plenty of strong support here, including a feisty turn from River City star Frances Thorburn’s as the fairy godmother, “gallus” Alice. The Ugly Sisters, Hinger (Still Game’s Gavin Mitchell) and Minger (Jonathan Watson from Only an Excuse) are well-matched and outrageously attired, if slightly eclipsed by the veteran double act.
The bones of the Grimm fairy tale are present and correct in Alan McHugh and Jonathan Kiley’s script, even if the narrative has to fight for survival in amongst all the anarchic capering. As you would expect of a Qdos panto, the production values are unbeatable, from the gorgeous set and costumes to the musical backup and slick choreography from Gerry Zuccarello.