I admit it: I struggle with panto. Maybe it’s because I’ve had too many bad experiences in the past, or maybe it’s because I’m plainly not the target audience (I’m middle-aged, childless and world-weary). So I guess it’s a testament to the success of this Sleeping Beauty that it just about won me over from my fortress of cynicism, and even made me laugh a few times.
It took a while to settle in, though. The show is often slow-moving and frequently dramatically slack. I lost patience when, at the end of the first half, the King and Queen asked the audience whether they should follow the good fairy’s advice: Yes and for pity’s sake get on with it! What's more, the set-up for the comedy scenes is often achingly long for some rather lame jokes, the most guilty scene being a desperately tedious sequence about the songs on an Apple Watch, which had me yearning for the interval.
I got over it though when I forced myself to park my normal theatrical expectations outside the door. What’s the point in complaining that the show was flabby, indulgent and dramatically inert? It’s panto, for goodness’ sake! Nor is there much point, for the same reason, in complaining about the show’s very localised humour, with plenty of jokes which I, as an Edinburgh man, had no hope of getting. In actual fact, I was impressed that my home city was the butt of the gags only once!
In reality, the humour works best when it sets about pricking the bubble of the genre’s own conventions. My biggest laugh of the evening was an "unintentional" look backstage that revealed slacking stagehands and dancers, and I loved the bathos of Prince Charming’s cringingly sincere love song to Beauty being interrupted by Muddles, the court jester, bursting onto the scene. That lack of respect for authority is a very Glasgow thing, and they used it really well.
Elaine C Smith is a Glasgow panto institution, and she plays up to her own self-parody as Fairy Bella. She does it well enough, though I question some of the things she is given to do, such as a very random Adele impression, and a bizarre turn as a country and western singer. Johnny Mac’s high energy Muddles is much more fun to spend time with, and his audience interactions are mostly pretty sharp. Both are left in the shade by Juliet Cadzow’s wicked fairy, Carabosse, however. Her performance contains more ham than your local deli counter, but she’s a delight to watch, and I wish they had used her more. With larger-than-life comedy characters like this, I almost didn't notice Princess Beauty (Maggie Lynne) and Prince Calum (Will Knights), who give their roles the sickly sweet sincerity they require for balance.
The thing that won me over most, however, was that most intangible thing in a Christmas show: atmosphere. Coming into the lovely theatre, which I’d never been to before, there were carol singers in the balcony and crowds of kids bursting with excitement, all of whom found the jokes hilarious, putting my misanthropy in its place. The production is all eye-popping razzmatazz, with a great visual coup to end the first half, and this sense of glitz even spills over into the gaily lit auditorium too. And, almost in spite of myself, I found myself booing and aaah-ing with the rest of the audience, and even doing the actions while joining in with the song competition. Ho, ho, ho, I suppose.
Sleeping Beauty runs at the King's Theatre, Glasgow until 7 January.