Mammy Goose

Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Four stars

Until January 6

Hold onto your hats! It’s Christmas time and, at the Tron, Dame Johnny McKnight is very emphatically in the house. Playing the titular heroine, who runs a cafe on the Maryhill Road, McKnight (who is also the writer and director) spins through the auditorium like a cross between a motor-mouthed drag queen and a very colourful tornado.

Mammy’s cafe is under threat from the narcissistic witch Vanity Visage (Lauren Ellis-Steele on fine, hiss-inducing form), who (as well as being posh and English, obviously) manages a property portfolio. Unless she can pay the rent arrears, Mammy and her two weans (Lucy Goose, who is an actual goose, and Jack Goose, who isn’t) are going to be thrown onto the cold streets of north Glasgow at Christmas (awwww)!

What ensues is comic mayhem. As ever, McKnight takes hilarious liberties with carefully chosen male members of the audience.

A series of very funny, original songs fit perfectly into a panto that zips along at pace, even when it stumbles. And stumble, delightfully, it does, all the better for McKnight and his equally brilliant partners in crime Julie Wilson Nimmo (Lucy) and Darren Brownlie (Jack) to prove their tremendous capacity for ad-libbing.

The fabulous wild card in McKnight’s narrative is the budding love affair between Jack and Vanity’s long-suffering son Will (the excellent Ryan Ferrie). This subplot blossoms into a celebration of gay marriage (complete with rainbow flag bedspread) so deliciously strident that it would put DUP leader Arlene Foster off her Christmas dinner, so it would.

If the show (which boasts appropriately garish design by Kenny Miller) has a difficulty it is that, as so often with the Tron’s pastiche pantos, its uproarious humour holds more for adults than it does for children.


Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Two stars

Until December 22

Orla O’Loughlin, the Traverse’s departing artistic director, takes her leave with this crisply directed production of Mouthpiece, Kieran Hurley’s new, non-Christmas play. Tracing the unlikely friendship between Libby (a playwright stricken by mid-life crisis) and Declan (a young, working-class man from Edinburgh’s marginalised housing schemes), the drama promised to expose the ethical (not to mention the aesthetic) problems of the consciously “issue driven” play.

Hurley’s offering is framed as a “play-within-a-play”, by virtue of the occasional appearance of a dramaturge (the kind of person who assists playwrights with the structure of their plays). This artistic advisor records somewhat cynical notes on how to construct precisely the kind of drama Libby is (parasitically) writing about Declan. However, rather than keeping us at an incredulous distance from the action (as Brecht might have done), Hurley allows his central narrative to climb out of its meta-theatrical frame and play itself out as a conventional socio-political and emotional thriller.

The characterisations of Libby and Declan reinforce, rather than overturn, the formulaic caricatures of British theatrical realism. Nor is this altered by the insertion of the sort of “game-changing” moment of sexual contact that a dramaturge might recommend (not least because it is schematically predictable, rather than shocking).

Despite Hurley’s undoubted sympathy with the real life Declans of our society, there is an uncomfortable sense that his play is, first-and-foremost, an expression of the concerns of 21st-century Scottish dramatists; an impression that is strengthened by the numerous, cosy playwrights’ in-jokes and by the fact that the final scene (at the premiere of Libby’s fictitious play) is set at the Traverse itself.

The production is designed with stark intelligence by Kai Fischer, and given better performances than it deserves by fine actors Neve McIntosh and Lorn Macdonald.

Ultimately, however, Mouthpiece looks like the outcome of an ill-advised collaboration between Irvine Welsh and Alan Ayckbourn. It purports to offer a sceptical deconstruction of the well-intentioned, but artistically unrewarding, theatre of liberal conscience, but ends up becoming the very thing it set out to critique.