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.
First published in The Times, Monday December 17 2018
Manchester’s loss is Glasgow’s gain. Last Christmas, the legendary comedy pairing of Ian and Janette Tough aka the Krankies, along with their performing partner-in-crime John Barrowman, hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons when their innuendo-laden production of Dick Whittington at the Manchester Opera House attracted a barrage of complaints from outraged panto-goers.
First published in The Times, Wednesday December 12 2018
Anyone playing pantomime bingo would be shouting “house” long before the end of this year’s show at the Glasgow King’s. The up-for-it audience doesn’t need permission to boo and hiss. No sooner have the fluorescent wristbands and deely boppers been illuminated than the evil Abanazar (George Drennan) is leading the crowd in a chorus of “Oh yes I will!” / “Oh no you won’t!” Before the latecomers have even shuffled into their seats, we’ve heard the gag about Widow Twankey (Elaine C Smith) being “the best scrubber in Old Peking”.
First published in The Times, Friday August 17 2018
The Fringe is overflowing with verbatim shows, but there is little to match this latest piece from the award-winning Breach Theatre. While we usually associate verbatim work with contemporary issues and events, this new play is based on surviving transcripts of the 1612 trial of Agostino Tassi for the rape of Artemesia Gentileschi, the Italian baroque painter who became the first woman to be admitted to the Accademia delle Arte del Disegno in Florence.
First published in The Times, Wednesday August 15 2018
Most speculative writing takes its inspiration from the way we live now. The action of Gary McNair’s two-hander begins in 2042, but there is nothing high-tech about the playwright’s vision of the future. His protagonists, Agnes (Pauline Knowles) and Jim (George Docherty), live in a tiny house surrounded by threadbare furniture. The greatest luxury the couple can afford is a rare Blue Riband biscuit, ordered online and cherished like vintage malt whisky.
First published in The Times, Friday August 10 2018
Like counting the rings on a tree, you can tell a person’s age by which Blue Peter presenter they grew up watching. Love it or loathe it (and there were plenty who thought it sanctimonious, preferring its edgier ITV rival Magpie) the children’s magazine programme has clung on long after its many imitators have fallen foul of the axe. This year the show celebrates a phenomenal 60 years of funny encounters with animals, eye-watering feats of daring, and making models out of old washing-up liquid bottles and sticky-back plastic.
First published in The Times, Tuesday July 10 2018
At first glance, there appears to be a bulky, Oscar Wilde-shaped hole in Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s summer season programme. Lively, intelligent productions of the great aesthete’s masterpieces, from An Ideal Husband to The Importance of Being Earnest, all directed by Richard Baron, have been among the rural theatre’s more memorable outings in recent years.
No one is quite sure who coined the phrase “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”, but the enduring sentiment could just as easily be applied to the obvious incongruity of “staging” a radio play.
Watching actors poised in front of microphones, scripts in hands, while their co-stars rhubarb in the background, creating crowd noise, may not sound promising, and yet, done well, it can be surprisingly absorbing. Mull Theatre’s ingenious production of Whisky Galore, set in a BBC studio and based upon Compton Mackenzie’s radio adaptation, has been regularly revived to appreciative responses since it premiered around a quarter of a century ago.
First published in The Times, Friday December 22 2017
Comic turns have always taken precedence over the romantic leads in pantomime. Widow Twankey regularly gets higher billing than her own son. Sarah the Cook is generally further up the food chain than Dick Whittington. Even at the ball the Ugly Sisters and Buttons tend to outshine poor Cinderella.
In the case of the Armadillo’s panto, the roll call of comedians and celebrities is brasher and starrier than at any other seasonal offering in Scotland. After all, this is no ordinary festive show, but a “giant pantomime spectacular”.
First published in The Times, Friday December 15 2017
Some people know each other so well they finish each other’s sentences. This is literally true of the entertainers Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott, the trio that has been at the heart of the King’s Theatre’s annual pantomime for the past 13 years. Whenever one of them struggles to spit out his lines, usually due to cracking up with laughter, the other two are on hand to clear up the verbal clutter – or simply exacerbate the sense of anarchy.