First published in The Times, Wednesday December 11 2019
The opening voiceover from football legend Graeme Souness, encouraging grown-ups to turn off their phones and “turn up” their children, is surplus to requirements. This, after all, is the Glasgow King’s panto, where excitement levels are set high from the outset and frequently rise to the pitch of frenzy.
This year’s outing is Jack and the Beanstalk, and for the most part, the show, written by Alan McHugh and directed and choreographed by Jonny Bowles, follows a familiar trajectory. As ever, the bulk of the stage time goes to the comic leads. Elaine C Smith, in the role of Dame Trot, arrives onstage in a huge Christmas tree bauble and performs her opening number while resplendent in Irn Bru colours. Johnny Mac, playing Jack, displays his usual rapport with audience members of all ages, notably in the sequence in which he invites groups of children onstage to help out on the final singalong.
Pic: Richard Campbell
The pair’s antics and comic timing remain as solid as ever, even if some of the routines will fill anyone who has seen a Qdos panto in the past couple of years with a strange sense of déjà vu. The sketch involving a trolley-load of chocolate bars and sweeties was seen on this very stage a mere year ago.
Among the supporting cast, Jonathan Watson gets pushed to the margins in his role as dotty King Hector. Naomi Cowe, as Princess Jill, has more personality and agency than the average pantomime heroine, though her romance with Jack seems farfetched. Angela Darcy is sweet and tuneful as Mammy Nature, while Anne Smith, as the dastardly Mrs Blunderbore, compensates for the lack of animation in her outsized puppet husband.
Pic: Richard Campbell
The show is at its best when it sticks to stage-bound antics, particularly the big musical numbers, which Bowles stages with aplomb. The over-reliance on hydraulics, including the helicopter that carries Elaine C out over the stalls and the enormous sprouting beanstalk that rises out of the ground to a chorus of Ain’t No Beanstalk High Enough, are just so much Christmas stuffing.