Beauty and the Beast at King's Theatre, Glasgow – review
The festive offering is back
Scottish theatre survived Covid by the skin of its teeth. Having been shut for much longer than entertainment venues south of the border, theatres staggered through 2021's panto season with masks in distanced venues meaning that, in terms of both fun and finance, the most lucrative time of the year was neutered almost beyond recognition.
How glorious to have it back, then. Even a confessed panto-sceptic like me can't help but feel a warm glow at the sight of a packed theatre, crammed full of smiling families and happy children, exactly the scene in Glasgow's King's Theatre for Beauty and the Beast. We roared, we cheered, we booed, we got thoroughly stuck in as though the pandemic had never happened and the last few Christmases had been relegated to the status of an unpleasant memory.
This show's producer is Crossroads, which proudly calls itself "the world's biggest pantomime producer" and is responsible for 24 shows across the UK this Christmas. They have plenty of resources, therefore, and you can see that in Mike Coltman's lavish costumes and the garish neon sets that scorch the retina when the curtain goes up. They also manage plenty of sparkly special effects, and the flying motorcycle that ends act one is terrific.
Alan McHugh's script is very much the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast, though they joke about how copyright reasons mean they can't acknowledge that. Blythe Jandoo and Calum McElroy aren't given much to do as the romantic couple, and they're not hugely engaging stage presences. However, that's mostly because the central comic trio are such big personalities. Darren Brownlie camps it up wonderfully as Shuggie, and banters well with Elaine C Smith and Johnny Mac, who headline the King's panto every year. Smith is at the stage in her career where she can rely more on her reputation than on stage energy, but she's still a huge presence and the audience love her. Mac is way ahead of her in terms of both stage presence and repartee. His lines might be rehearsed, but he makes them all sound improvised, and his energy keeps things going when things slow down.
And they do slow down; dangerously so in places. Fun as the show is, it could lose 20 minutes and be no worse off. The lengthy sequence about Sean Connery impersonations runs out of steam as soon as its central joke becomes apparent, as does an interminably obvious set of jokes revolving around the lyrics to "You Sexy Thing". Their "Twelve Days of Christmas" sequence also goes on for far too long. During all those moments lots of children around me began to fidget with their light-up toys; always a telling sign.
None of the original songs are particularly memorable either, and they also seem at a loss as to what to do about their villain. Matthew McKenna is suitably hammy as the self-obsessed Malky McSneer but the scripts loses confidence in its own device by making him a power-crazed megalomaniac as well as a narcissist. Very odd, and rather anachronistic in the context of such a light-hearted show.
So it's far from perfect, but I admit it seems churlish to criticise this most earthy of theatrical forms for its technical deficiencies. The families around me roared with delight throughout, and I laughed enough times to enjoy it. Despite its longueurs, this is still a good night out.