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Wake up! Wake up! Or you'll miss a great production

PANTO REVIEWS

Sleeping Beauty

Citizens, Glasgow

Until January 6

Cinderella

King's, Glasgow

Until January 6

The Snow Queen

Dundee Rep

Until January 5

Reviewed by Mark Brown

From the story by the Brothers Grimm to the Disney animation, everyone knows that the tale of the Sleeping Beauty ends with the eponymous somnolent heroine receiving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation from the Prince. However, as any expert on fairytales will tell you, everyone knows wrong.

The Grimms did, in fact, cut the story (written in the 17th century by the great French folklorist Charles Perrault) off in its prime. In Perrault's original, adapted to critical acclaim by Rufus Norris, Beauty faces great trials and tribulations after she's woken by her blue-blooded suitor.

In reviving Norris's script, which premiered at the Young Vic in London a decade ago, Citizens Theatre director Dominic Hill further enhances the Gorbals playhouse's reputation for stylish and imaginative Christmas productions. Few directors would dare create a child-oriented show which is as visibly dark (in Naomi Wilkinson's bleak, forest set) as this. However, under Guy Hoare's subtly responsive lighting, the stage design proves to be deceptively versatile.

The great achievement of both Norris's play and Hill's production is to achieve such a perfect balance between light and dark. In contrast to pantoland – with its risible, hissable baddies and its saccharine, too-good-to-be-true heroes – there is an engaging sense of substance (and, therefore, of believability) about the characters here.

Kathryn Howden (who has had a tremendous year, from the Citz's production of Beckett's Footfalls to Michel Tremblay's The Guid Sisters for the National Theatre of Scotland) offers another superb performance as Fairy Goody. With her tousled hair and twigs for wings, she is an earthy, funny, grammatically challenged (and flatulent) antithesis to the Technicolor fairies of Disney fame.

Opposite her, Mark McDonnell's darkly comic, cross-dressed Ogress and John Kielty's spectacularly costumed and masked Ogre bring a brilliantly balanced (really scary, but not too scary) sense of danger. Enhanced by a pair of stilts and some simple voice distortion, Kielty's monster really is a wonder to behold.

From the weird (Alasdair Hankinson as a "table slave"; i.e. a slave who is literally trapped in a table) to the wonderful (Lucy Hollis as a bewildered-yet-feisty Beauty, saving her young children from the ogres' macabre culinary designs), this is a truly distinctive and extremely classy Sleeping Beauty.

If Hill's production isn't classy enough for you, get yourself over to the King's Theatre, Glasgow, where Gavin Mitchell and Gordon Cooper (aka ugly sisters Pixie and Peaches) are offering a masterclass in feminine beauty in Tony Cownie's typically raucous pantomime, Cinderella. If you think you've seen some unconvincing transvestites in your time, you ain't seen nothing yet. Mitchell and Cooper are more flagrant than fragrant as they steal the show in a series of brilliantly ridiculous frocks, make-up that should be sponsored by B&Q and silly headgear which looks like it's been supplied by the man from Del Monte.

Mitchell and Gordon's lurid and uproarious appearances aside, the King's panto boasts, as ever, a star cast, led by the excellent Karen Dunbar. The Chewin' The Fat star has established herself as the new doyenne of the Glasgow panto scene. Indeed, so comfortable is she in her festive lead role that, this year, she plays a neat, metatheatrical game in which the real fairy is seriously injured at the outset, and she (Dunbar) comes on as an old Glasgow wifey (Mrs McConkey) who reluctantly swaps a seat in the stalls for the fairy's sparkling wand. It's a smashing conceit which the leading lady sustains hilariously throughout the show.

As ever at the King's, there's no show without song and dance, and Jenny Douglas (Cinderella), Kieran Brown (Prince Charming) and the high-kicking chorus provide the appropriate level of schmaltz; although the male chorus members do struggle to appear elegant in what look like pyjama trousers. Des Clarke does a lovely job as Buttons; his cries of "hiya gang!" respectfully avoiding the "hiya pals!" of the late, great and irreplaceable Gerard Kelly.

If the Glasgow King's production is as high-tempo as ever, there is something disappointingly flat about The Snow Queen, Jemima Levick's first Christmas show as Dundee Rep's artistic director designate. The disappointment is all the greater for knowing that Levick has, with such shows as A Christmas Carol (Lyceum, Edinburgh) and Beauty And The Beast (Dundee Rep), created some of the most brilliant festive productions in Scotland in recent times.

A number of factors combine to create a decidedly stilted atmosphere in this staging of Mike Kenny's version of Hans Christian Andersen's great fairytale. For a start, the substantial amount of narrating which is required of Granny (Ann Louise Ross) is more of a hindrance than a help to the rhythm of the performance. More damaging still is Lisa Sangster's cumbersome set design: fir trees on wheels which have to be constantly moved around by stagehands and actors; pieces of set pulled on and off stage on castors with dizzying regularity; a "post office" which is turned around to, somewhat confusingly, reveal a robbers' den.

As you'd expect of the Dundee Rep ensemble, there are some funny moments, such as Kevin Lennon and Emily Winter in daft song as the nice-but-dim Prince and Princess, and John Buick as, by turns, an obnoxious crow and a put upon reindeer. However, by the time Winter's Snow Queen on stilts is ineffectively chasing after our heroes (Gerda and Kai), there is a strong sense that this production has already imploded under the weight of its own structural inadequacies.

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Beauty

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