JOYCE MCMILLAN on DICK MCWHITTINGTON at the SECC, Glasgow, for the Scotsman 19.12.13.
4 stars ****
IF YOU LIKE YOUR PANTO naughty, and maybe just a little bit “durrty”, then there’s only one place for you, this Christmas. In the Clyde Auditorium at the SECC, John Barrowman and the Krankies consolidate their hugely successful Glasgow panto partnership – now in its fourth year – with a version of Dick Whittington that leaves no double entendre unturned, extracts endless knowing laughs from Barrowman’s status as a gay man playing a straight hero, and makes plenty of space for some classic routines from Ian and Janette Krankie, with Janette in her classic role of “durrty wee boy” turned ventriloquist’s dummy.
It’s not that there’s no straightforward family fun, in this glitzy Q-dos version of Dick Whittington, relocated to a mediaeval-looking Glasgow where King Rat and his minions are trying to wreck the Commonwealth Games. The kids sitting near me enjoyed it mightily, from the first appearance of Pete Gallagher’s snarling villain, to the last swish of the tail from Lukus Alexander’s gorgeous cat. The script, by Alan McHugh and Jonathan Kiley, makes a witty attempt to give this classic London story a contemporary Glasgow twist, despite the half-timbered sets and elaborate English-mediaeval costumes. And although there is no Dame and no final song-sheet, there are plenty of other traditional panto features, from a tongue-twisting nonsense sequence involving words that rhyme with cat, to the ghost scene, the 3-d sequence, and the glittering song-and-dance set-pieces, with Barrowman in fine form.
The only problem is that just here and there, the tone seems so ironic, so smutty, and so self-consciously showbiz that it cancels out any sense of magical Christmas storytelling. The audience seems happy and amused enough; yet there’s a recurring sense of panto eating away at its own fairytale substance for the sake of a quick, sleazy laugh – and that, at this most wonderful time of the year, seems a shame.