Chick Whittington

Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling University

Until December 31

Reviewed by Mark Brown

THEY like to get the Christmas season started early at Stirling's Macrobert Arts Centre. This year's pantomime, Chick Whittington, came flying out of the theatrical traps like a reindeer on a jetpack.

The show is written, directed and performed by the irrepressible Johnny McKnight. The writer pens the Christmas shows for both the Macbob and the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, and he pops up on the stage at one or the other each year.

This season, it's Stirling's turn to enjoy the considerable talents of an actor who, alongside Barrie Hunter at Perth Theatre and Alan McHugh at His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen, is keeping alive the proud tradition of the Scottish pantomime dame. As many a six-foot-something male will tell you, catching the eye of McKnight's Technicolor dame can only mean one thing, involuntary audience participation, combined with a liberal sprinkling of single-entendres.

The Macrobert show involves a ludicrous mangling of the story of Dick Whittington, by way of a nod to Doctor Who, to enable McKnight's panto to emerge (courtesy of a red, non-copyright infringing version of the Tardis) in the 1960s. Chick Whittington (Emma Mullen), intrepid daughter of deceased hero Dick, and her crazy mum Alice Fitzwarren-Whittington (McKnight) find themselves on a quest.

It turns out that Dick signed a contract giving Chick to the evil Queen Rat (Helen McAlpine) on his daughter's wedding day. Bang goes Chick's wedding (she's supposed to be marrying the tech specialist Dr Rick tomorrow), unless they can get back to the 1960s and stop Dick signing the fateful document.

If this all sounds a tad convoluted, bear in mind that this is the simplified, synopsised version. Daft, sometimes confusing, though the storyline is, it does serve its primary purpose (namely, allowing designers Kenneth MacLeod and Alison Brown to go all psychedelic with the Swinging 1960s sets and costumes).

McKnight's costumes, in particular, are a delightfully dreadful set of multicoloured creations, matched only by the inimitable garishness of his performance. McAlpine shines in the midst of a fine cast as the funny, improbably sexy Queen Rat, as does Robert Jack as Chick's hilarious, numpty brother Slick.

As ever at the Macbob, the cast are supported by a willing and energetic chorus of child performers. Which is a tad ironic as, if the show has a weakness, it is that its script seems to leave children behind a little too often.