Pantomime review: Snow White – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

First published in The Times, Saturday December 24 2022


This is the legendary King’s panto, but not as we know it. We’re definitely not in Kansas, or even at the King’s theatre, currently undergoing refurbishment. Allan Stewart, in his annual outing as the dame, Nurse May, has to stop for a breather as he scurries across the stage. “If this were the King’s I’d be there by now,” he pants.

As the backdrop is bigger, so elements of the show have swollen to epic proportions, not least when it comes to the stage effects. Jordan Young, playing Muddles, the palace jester, closes the first act with a sleigh ride that soars above the stalls. An enormous dragon, half the size of the auditorium, also puts in a brief appearance.

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Pantomime review: Beauty and the Beast – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

First published in The Times, Sunday December 4 2022


Somewhere, faintly in the background, almost drowned out by the music and singing onstage and the delighted cries from the audience, you can just about hear the clatter of the kitchen sink being thrown at this year’s King’s pantomime. And why not? As Elaine C Smith reminds us in the show’s finale, this is the first time since 2019 that the panto has gone up without restrictions. Even last year’s run was sadly curtailed when Omicron appeared like the dark fairy at a christening.

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Theatre review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Leeds Playhouse

First published in The Times, Wednesday November 30 2022


There is something decidedly un-Christmassy about Roald Dahl’s children’s books, although the author’s sadistic edge would probably have struck a chord with Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch. Nonetheless, theatrical versions of his stories are a fixture of the festive season, from David Wood’s enduring adaptations of The BFG and The Twits to the large-scale musical spectacle of Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin’s Matilda.

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Panto review: Jack and the Beanstalk – Perth Theatre

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.

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Theatre review: Enough of Him – Pitlochry Festival Theatre

First published in The Times, Monday October 24 2022


Joseph Knight, the young black slave brought to Scotland by Sir John Wedderburn from Jamaica in the late 18th century, disappeared from history following the landmark court case that secured his freedom in 1778. His name has returned to the public consciousness in recent years. James Robertson’s eponymous 2003 novel sets Knight’s story against a rich backdrop of fallout from the Jacobite uprising, Enlightenment Edinburgh, and Scotland’s immersion in the transatlantic slave trade.

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Theatre review: The Time Machine – Cumbernauld Theatre

First published in The Times, Monday October 17 2022


What does the future hold? HG Wells, in his 1895 novella The Time Machine, offers a pessimistic diagnosis for humanity. His Victorian gentleman scientist pedals forth on his heavily customised bicycle to the year AD 802701 and discovers the light-fearing Morlocks feeding on the docile, fruitarian Eloi. The story is as much a reflection on the inequality of the late 19th century as a work of speculative fiction.

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Theatre review: La Performance – Tron, Glasgow

First published in The Times, Friday October 14 2022


This brief, tantalising piece of visual theatre was devised from scratch by the deaf performers Emmanuelle Laborit and Ramesh Meyyappan with Andy Arnold, the director, but much of its content and imagery will be familiar to Francophiles. The co-production between the Tron and International Visual Theatre (IVT) draws on iconic moments in French cinema, from the poetic visuals of Georges Méliès to the tragic pairing of Arletty and Jean-Louis Barrault in Marcel Carné’s Les Enfants du Paradis.

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Theatre review: James IV: Queen of the Fight – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

First published in The Times, Wednesday October 5 2022


Eight years on from the epic trilogy that formed the centrepiece of the 2014 Edinburgh International Festival, the playwright Rona Munro continues her history cycle, based around the lives and (mostly) violent deaths of Scotland’s Stuart kings and queens. Familiar names returning for this latest instalment include Laurie Sansom, the former artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland, and the veteran actor Blythe Duff, who was the linchpin of the original James Plays.

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Theatre review: Don Quixote – Dundee Rep

First published in The Times, Friday September 30 2022


There is a gem of an idea at the heart of this comedy by Ben Lewis. Echoing the famous line in Miguel de Cervantes’s 1605 prototype novel, “When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies?”, the playwright reimagines Cervantes’s Man of La Mancha as an octogenarian resident of Clackmannanshire, hovering somewhere between lucidity and delusion, who takes to the road in a mobility scooter, armed with antique weaponry and an unshakeable sense of heroic destiny.

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Theatre review: Noughts & Crosses – York Theatre Royal

First published in The Times, Friday September 23 2022


It is now 20 years since the first of Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses series of books for young adults was published. The intervening years have only made her vision of a racially segregated society, in which the white Noughts are subordinate to the ruling black Crosses, even more vital, not to mention ripe for adaptation. A second series of the BBC dramatisation screened this year, while Sabrina Mahfouz’s theatrical version, first staged in 2019, is set to tour until next April.

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