JOYCE MCMILLAN on SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVENTH DWARF at Oran Mor, Glasgow, and MISTER MERLIN at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 9.12.11
Snow White And The Seventh Dwarf 4 stars ****
Mister Merlin 3 stars ***
IN THE LAND of the satirical meta-panto, the man with a clear political viewpoint is king. At Oran Mor, come Christmas time, the Play, Pie and Pint crowd don’t pretend to be staging a children’s show. Instead, the veteran team of David MacLennan (writer, director) and David Anderson (writer, musical director, actor) just clamber aboard that other aspect of panto, the rowdy satire in which the mighty are lampooned and the humble given their once-a-year chance to speak out; and they give it a memorable run for its money.
This year’s effort, a hair-raising take on the Snow White story featuring a kick-ass heroine who arms herself with a Kalashnikov half-way through the story, looked seriously under-rehearsed at its opening performance, with plenty of drying and corpsing, as the four-strong cast ploughed their way through some strikingly complex satirical song-lyrics.
Everything else about the show, though, is bang on target, from the talking mirror’s sardonic relationship with the much-face-lifted wicked queen – “Sorry, your Majesty, it’s a built-in app/ I’m no allowed tae gie you any crap” – to the Queen’s own fraught relationship with her subjects, occupying the palace square in a strictly contemporary protest movement. “Their demands are so vague!” she shrieks; while the protesters chant some crystal-clear demand, like “Make The Bankers Pay Their Taxes.”
There’s no suppressing the unstoppable creative flow of the Anderson/MacLennan script, which includes brilliant rhyming couplets throughout, and the most astonishing extended dialogue composed entirely of words beginning with the letters “tr…” . Catriona Grozier is an astonishing Canadian Snow White, George Drennan is superb as the sceptical mirror, the closing anti-boss-class chorus, to the tune of You’re Just Too Good To Be True, has the Oran Mor crowd singing its heart out. And if the whole show sometimes threatens to collapse in chaos, it’s the right kind of chaos; radical, cheeky, purposeful, and bristling with subversive wit.
At the Tron, meanwhile, Andy Arnold has abandoned the meta-panto tradition entirely, in favour of a jolly revival of an Alex Norton pantomime written for Borderline Theatre in the 1980’s, when it was known as Peter And Penny’s Panto. It’s a cheerful take on the Merlin story, in which the old magician runs a travelling magic show, has his wand stolen by the villain, and recovers it through the heroic efforts of his mechanical dolls Peter and Penny, brought to life by the helpful magic of the kindly Govan Fairy.
In its current form, Mister Merlin suffers from a structural flaw, in that more than half of the action involves the comedy double-act of the villain and his sidekick, largely alone on stage; despite their best efforts, Keith Fleming and Robbie Jack are not really funny enough, as a comic duo, to handle this kind of heavy exposure. Things perk up, though, whenever Finn Den Hertog and Sally Reid, as Peter and Penny, are allowed to get on with the story; and the show finishes with a vintage, beautifully-staged song-sheet singalong, featuring the great traditional magic word of the Glasgow panto stage – yes, it’s ally-bally-sugarally-eenty-teenty-haligolum!