Panto review: Sleeping Beauty – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

First published in The Times, Wednesday December 8 2021

FOUR STARS

A palpable sense of excitement is in the air as the legendary King’s pantomime returns following a two-year absence. Yet this production of Sleeping Beauty also comes with a bittersweet edge. A notable absence from the cast list is Andy Gray – for 20 years one of the stars of the show alongside Allan Stewart and Grant Stott – who died earlier this year.

The actor’s absence is felt throughout, most poignantly during set pieces such as Queen May’s (Stewart) voyage out across the stalls on a flying scooter, which seems a little lonely without Gray, the comic sidekick, riding pillion. It is testament to how embedded this institution is with its community that a heartfelt second-half tribute to the performer brings the audience to its feet.

Pic: Graham Clark

The show must go on, and for sheer entertainment value, relentless slapstick and jaw-dropping theatrics, this one’s hard to beat. Written by Alan McHugh, with additional material courtesy of Stewart and Stott, the script is a Greatest Hits package of pantomime stock sequences, many of them familiar to this crowd. There are ripples of anticipation when Stewart wheels on the trolley of oversized chocolate bars for a monologue whose every other word is the name of a well-known brand of confectionary, and again when he and Stott and Jordan Young’s Muddles the Jester embark on a tongue-twisting back-and-forth about a pair of poisonous pythons in a hissing pit in Prestonpans.

Pic: Graham Clark

If there’s a flaw, it’s that this year’s production more than ever relegates plot to the margins. “Here at the King’s we don’t let the story get in the way of a good joke,” Young says, acknowledging just how rapidly the fairy tale element has been dispensed with – curses, spindles, slumbering princess and all. Indeed, the human performers are almost eclipsed at one point by a giant hydraulic vampire bat that looms out over the audience. 

In the end it’s the clown who defeats the baddie and gets the girl, which is an innovation of which King Andy would surely have approved. The rubber-faced Young has been a good addition to this team in recent years, enjoying a strong chemistry with Stewart’s loveable Dame and Stott’s commanding villain(ness). Gray will be missed, but as the King’s moves into a new era, with an ambitious renovation planned for next year, the panto with which he was associated for so long is in rude health. 

Box office: 0131 529 6000, to Jan 16. Capitaltheatres.com

Author: Allan Radcliffe

I am a writer, freelance journalist, subeditor and theatre critic, based in South Queensferry. My short fiction has been published in anthologies such as Out There, Elsewhere, The Best Gay Short Stories, ImagiNation, Markings, Gutter, New Writing Scotland and Celtic View. I have won the Scottish Book Trust's New Writer's Award and several of my stories have been adapted for broadcast on BBC Radio 4. As a journalist I write regularly for The Times, the Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday, Sunday Herald, Sunday Times, Metro, Big Issue and I was formerly assistant editor of The List magazine.

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