JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE BFG at Dundee Rep, JUNGLE BOOK at the Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, and PETER PANTO at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 9.12.13. _________________________________________________________
The BFG 4 stars ****
Jungle Book 4 stars ****
Peter Panto 3 stars ***
AT DUNDEE REP, the big, open stage has been opened out to its fullest extent, creating a limitless space somewhere between Dundee and the land of dreams. In the foreground, in Jean Chan’s inspired and fluent design, there’s a huge, bright wooden platform that can become a house, a palace, or a landscape full of giants. And in this space, brilliantly lit by David Cunningham, the Dundee Rep company tell Roald Dahl’s great story of Sophie, the little girl in a yellow dress snatched from her nasty orphanage by a giant who turns out – unlike the other giants – to be big and friendly.
In a world of seasonal entertainment now divided between Christmas shows and post-Christmas shows – the ones that decide, in a secular age, not to mention the midwinter feast at all – The BFG falls firmly into the second category; it’s not Christmassy, it’s not a fairytale, and there’s no real audience participation. Yet it has such a strong sense of the magic of storytelling – captured in Stephanie MacGregor’s fine performance as Sophie, in the beautiful little puppet version of Sophie, in Ali Craig’s shy BFG, in Emily Winter’s lovely turn as the Queen, and in every aspect’s of Joe Douglas’s fine debut production at Dundee – that this BFG never seems short of enchantment or joy; and sends its audience home as happy as any Christmas show I’ve seen this year.
There’s slightly more of an enchantment problem with the Citizens’ Theatre’s Jungle Book, a brisk and colourful theatrical retelling of the story of Mowgli directed by Nikolai Foster, with a script by Scottish panto genius Stuart Paterson, a few faint elements of audience participation, and a live onstage rock-band; I’ve never seen the wolfpack leader Akela portrayed as an ageing rocker clutching his beloved guitar, before, but it makes sense. In the end, though, this fiercely fashionable, streetwise Jungle Book, delivered in a standard BBC-estuary accent, just seems to have nothing to do with the midwinter holidays. It’s a good, fast-moving flatpack children’s show that could be rolled out on any stage in the UK, at any time of year, with equal success; and if that’s what you fancy for Christmas, then it’s an excellent, reliable choice.
Meanwhile, back in the ever-expanding realm of the satirical meta-panto, Johnny McKnight accosts this year’s Tron audience with Peter Panto, a Glasgow version of the tale that blazes with McKnight’s trademark combination of brilliant satirical intelligence, haphazard storytelling, confused moral structure, too many showbiz in-jokes, and an extreme obsession with that great panto institution, the loud fart. In this show, Wendy becomes a tedious Byres Road twit called West End Wendy, the mermaids’ lagoon becomes the well-known Glasgow chip-shop of similar name, the fairy Stinkerbell farts almost continuously, and the story is lost in transit. Some of the audience seemed delighted, others looked a shade disappointed; it’s a bit of a curate’s egg, in other words – good in parts, and with exactly the same sulphurous smell.