First published in The Times, Monday November 28 2022
We are in the village of Mickle Muchty, in the shadow of Beinn Mucklemichty, a peak as formidable as the north face of the Eiger, and the rumoured home to a fearsome giant. The setting for this year’s Perth panto also bears a remarkable resemblance to the Fair City, with its references to Murrays Bakers and karaoke night at the Bee Bar.
The theatre’s annual festive outing, written and directed by Barrie Hunter, is a joyous fixture of the seasonal landscape, and this year’s take on a panto staple conjures the usual comforting familiarity.
There’s a sassy steampunk villain played by Helen Logan, whose plan to rain down misery on the inhabitants of the village incites much booing and hissing.
She’s well-matched by Kirsty Findlay’s determined Jack, desperately seeking redemption after rashly selling Maggie Moo, the beloved Highland cow, for a bag of magic beans.
Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic
Comic relief is provided as ever by Hunter, one of the great Scottish pantomime dames, in the role of Lettie Lou, proprietor of a run-down petting zoo, and Ewan Somers, as her loveable doofus son, Jock.
If the main building blocks of the fairy tale are all present and correct, Hunter’s Beanstalk has a decidedly green tinge. Underpinning the fun and magical adventure is a theme of reckless climate change, with pollution driving people out of their homes, and melting snow displacing a community of adorable mountain hares.
Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic
This message is woven into the show with a lightness of touch that is calibrated perfectly for a family audience.
Where some of the larger-scale Christmas shows rely on hydraulics for their appeal, Hunter and his ensemble engage with warmth, storytelling skill, and the full complement of traditional panto ingredients.
Musical numbers, choreographed by Chris Stuart Wilson, are a delight; a sweetie shower sends marshmallows soaring into the gods; shout-outs seem to involve most of the audience, while the final song sheet singalong, led by Hunter and Somers is a hoot.
Meanwhile, the human cast is almost upstaged by Maggie Moo, with front and back end brought to life by members of the theatre’s enthusiastic community company.
Box office: 01738 621031, to December 31. Perththeatreandconcerthall.com