King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
The King’s panto is an Edinburgh institution, and this year’s is extra special for a number of reasons. It’s the first one since the pandemic forced the theatres to go dark. The last one before the King’s closes for refurbishment. And the first one since the demise of Andy Gray, one third of the beloved triumvirate synonymous with Christmas theatre in this city. This Sleeping Beauty isn’t just a pantomime; it’s a tribute to him too.
There’s nothing new here. If you think you’ve seen it all before, well, you probably have. This is a tried and tested formula. Elaborate tongue-twisters? Check. Queen May hovering over the audience on a cantilever? Check. That thing they do with the chocolate bars? Check. It’s all there, like a greatest hits album. And thank goodness for that. Because this is as warm and familiar as a comfy cardy or a mug of hot chocolate – exactly what we need on a cold winter’s night.
The theatre is busy and bustling, but it feels relatively safe. People are taking the mask-wearing seriously; we’re all used to it now, and it doesn’t seem to impede the fun or mute the atmosphere. Anyway, we’re all putty in Queen May’s hands: Allan Stewart is a consummate comedian, and he knows how to work an audience, proving the adage that it’s not the joke, it’s the joker. Even the cheesiest of cheesy lines is funny when he utters it.
Grant Stott is here too, of course, and he’s a towering presence, playing Queen May’s – ahem – identical sister, Carabosse. In this version of the story, she’s the villain who curses Princess Aurora (Sia Dauda), dooming her death when she pricks her finger on a spinning wheel. The Good Fairy (Nicola Meehan) isn’t powerful enough to reverse the spell, but she can modify it, and Aurora falls asleep instead…
It’s nice to see the fool conflated with the love interest. Jordan Young plays Muddles, the jester whose heart belongs to Aurora. He delivers a wonderfully energetic performance, and appears to be having the time of his life as he hurtles from one ridiculous moment to another.
Andy Gray might be gone, but he’s not forgotten. His daughter, Clare Gray, has picked up the family panto-mantle, playing punky Princess Narcissa. She must be proud as punch when the audience applauds ‘King Andy’ – the affection is sincere and profound.
As ever, the King’s panto is a real treat, and not to be missed.