His Majesty's, Aberdeen
The mischievous among us have been known to refer to Aberdeen as FurryBoots City. (Go on - say it out loud!) It's the patois in the patter that tells lucky audiences at His Majesty's they are in one of the Pantosphere's classiest locales. Cinderella is going to the ball all over the UK, but this particular date with her destiny is ingeniously crafted and enthusiastically delivered with local folk in mind, ken.
Yet again, Alan McHugh's flair for embracing local place names in a bravura flow of word-play is like witty joshing between fond friends. When Elaine C Smith's Fairy Mary slips into her Gladys McKnight personna for the hilarious Midnicht Train to Huntly... well the winged horse and glittering coach that transports Cinders wows us all, but that journey to Huntly was just the ticket for the helplessly laughing women in front of me.
The wee girls (and boys, too) voiced their unstinting loyalties to New Best Chum Buttons as he just about burst his fasteners trying to tell Cinders (Gillian Parkhouse) that he loved her. Jordan Young does Buttons' tongue-tied anguish by getting his limbs in daft, bendy knots that - like the flamboyantly grotesque Uglies - constantly stoke up the visual and verbal comedy.
Those Uglies - Alan McHugh as Nessie, Iain Stuart Robertson as Morag - are raucous slappers who like to tickle the ruder parts of panto. The wicked card is played by Barbara Rafferty as Demonica, but her schemes are trumped by Fairy Mary. Elaine C Smith is positively flying high here, singing and joking with the loons and quines through to the moment when that shoe comes home, and true love wins, with the cry 'it fits!' Fit like? Like a glove, ken.
Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh
There's always been something valiant, if homespun, about the Brunton panto. The zest for packing in lots of local references has helped brighten up the stories that Disney, especially, has made familiar fodder for all ages. But somehow, this year, there's a thin-ness to the show that renders it panto-by-numbers, despite Tim Licata on board as director and some veteran panto-thesps in the cast.
The young audience around me cheerfully played their part nonetheless: boo-ing, cheering, joining in and laughing when they understood the word play, but mostly when there was a hint of slapstick or the Dame sashayed on in a garish ensemble. King Pinkie (Michael Mackenzie, naively bumbling a treat) clearly didn't hook up with Robert Read's Ruby because of her dress sense - or her past. Read's take on the tune 'Those were the days...' is a salt'n'sauce ditty called East Lothian Men that reveals she's well versed in them. It's a welcome highlight in Philip Meek's script.
Meek's also twisted the usual tale to make Aurora (talented singer Kim Shepherd) hanker for adventure, rather than marriage. She gets the full package, however, when she has to rescue her Prince from the clutches of Isabella Jarrett's eminently hissable Fairy Nightshade - don't call her a wicked witch, by the way, or she'll throw a splendidly silly strop. Maybe it was just a flat day, maybe the audience was of an age to follow a story - which they did, attentively - but not old enough for panto on all its levels. Who knows, but it was a disappointing show where Chuckles the Jester was hard pushed to live up to his name.
The Wizard of Oz
Motherwell Civic Theatre
All together now - 'we're off to see the Wizard, the wonderful...' And the packed house is positively bouncing with excitement, not least because we are really off to see Ian 'Sheepie' Smith. He's back for a fifth consecutive Motherwell panto and we have steadily built up this affectionate trust in his flair for making us laugh, shout and enjoy ourselves whatever the show.
He isn't playing the Wizard in this whizz-of-a treat production: he's the Scarecrow - and for a character who claims to have no brain, Sheepie's man of straw is smoothly quick-witted when it comes to putting a panto-friendly stamp on what is essentially a lively piece of music theatre. From the opening moment, when - before our very ears - he slips into a spot-on American drawl, he is, as ever, our goofy, lackadaisical chum.
But didn't Dorothy have three friends on her hop, skip and twirl along the yellow brick road? Yes indeedy, and here Phillip Amato (Tin Man) and Jamie Bannerman (the Lion) are a rare pair of sidekicks, claiming a rightful share of the funny business and the applause - kids, especially, are thrilled to see how the lovable companions from the much-screened film are live and fooling around, with daft antics that aren't in the original 1939 MGM frame.
Chloe Webster is the sweet Good Witch to Natalie Toyne's scary-voiced,green-faced Wicked Witch who definitely persuaded the moppets beside me that not even sparkly red shoes were worth her wrath. But our Dorothy (Melissa Davie) has all the pluck, charm and tunefulness she needs to get herself back to Kansas, even if the Wizard (Iain Wotherspoon) is a dandy flim-flam merchant.