First published in The Times, Tuesday December 10 2019
Excitement levels in the auditorium at this year’s King’s pantomime are even higher than usual. The first reason is the return of Andy Gray, one third of the regular performing team alongside Allan Stewart and Grant Stott, who missed last year’s show due to illness. When he appears onstage and launches into his catchphrase (“I’ve no been very well…”) the applause is long and heartfelt.
The charged atmosphere is also in part due to the spectacular staging. Alan McHugh and Allan Stewart’s script is inspired by the Hugh Jackman-starring film The Greatest Showman, which means a sumptuous Big Top setting, a supporting cast of carnival animals and cameo appearances from contemporary circus acts, including the Great Juggling Alfio and the motorcycling troupe, the Berserk Riders. For long stretches the atmosphere is more like one of those big-ticket shows at the Edinburgh Fringe than a panto.
Pic: Douglas Robertson
Meanwhile, the familiar story of the little girl with too much curiosity for her own good (Gillian Parkhouse) is something of a sideshow. The three bears (Clare Gray, Ross Finnie and Darren Brownlie, who is required to pirouette in a huge padded costume) cross paths with the principals in the woods near the Big Top. The script pays fleeting reference to broken chairs and beds and stolen porridge, but that component of the plot is all dealt with literally in a matter of minutes.
As ever, the comic antics of the leading triumvirate are very much to the fore. Several of the skits and routines feel familiar, from the device of turning an unflattering camera on the stalls to a sequence in which the leads break wind to the tune of Jingle Bells, but this merely adds to the sense of excited anticipation, along with shouts of “Oh no you won’t!” and “She’s behind you!”
Pic: Douglas Robertson
Jordan Young, in the role of Joey the Clown, is an appealing, funny addition to the ensemble, even performing a tightrope routine that is truly edge-of-your-seat thrilling. Indeed, for sheer visual pizazz and variety there is little to match Ed Curtis’s show. It’s just a pity that old-fashioned storytelling, wonder and beauty have fallen so far by the wayside.