First published in The Times, Tuesday December 3 2019
When the New Year rolls around the actor Barrie Hunter will surely be grateful for a well-earned rest. Having strutted the boards in high heels and higher wigs as Perth Theatre’s resident dame these past few years, Hunter not only stars in, but also writes and directs this year’s panto. Little wonder the good-natured mammy he plays in the show is called Jackie Alltrades (geddit?).
Hunter has long been considered a consummate dame of the Scottish pantosphere. As Jackie, his stage presence is more than a match for the small Victorian auditorium, the elastic facial expressions and lumbering physicality enhanced by garish pancake makeup, voluminous costumes and enormous padded backside. There is tremendous warmth and self-mockery in his interactions with the audience, however, which includes plenty of on-the-money one-liners as well as enjoyably daft digressions and ad-libs.
Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic
Although the cast list lacks a really solid foil for the dame’s comic antics, this show feels like more of an ensemble effort than many a pantomime. Helen Logan is wickedly funny as Vindicta, evil stepmother and consumerist queen, who will stop at nothing in her efforts to track down the fabled Well of Wealth and Wellbeing. Ewan Somers is on splendidly gormless form as Jackie’s daft son, Finn Lad.
Refreshingly, though, it is the female leads who come to the fore in Hunter’s script, with Rehanna MacDonald’s Sinbad teaming up with a feisty eco-warrior, appropriately named Greta (Rebekah Lumsden) to defeat the villainous Vindicta and save the threatened Tay beavers (adorably played with total commitment by a six-strong young cast).
Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic
The water-bound adventure story may be slim but it does contain a clear and unflinching message about climate change, embodied in the little raft made of plastic bottles on which Greta makes her escape from Vindicta’s clutches. Meanwhile, Hunter and his team pack every pantomime element imaginable into the two-hour running time, from lively song-and-dance numbers and references to local landmarks to a final interactive singalong. The show even features a sweetie shower – rare in panto these days – with marshmallows flying from the stage out into the stalls and up into the gods.