It’s been over a century (116 years, to be precise) since Edinburgh’s grand King’s Theater first staged the city’s great pantomime. Since then, the venue has become synonymous with men in robes, boisterous audience participation and all sorts of party shenanigans.
That tradition comes to a halt (hopefully temporarily) this year as this much-loved performance venue shuts down while the owners of Capital Theaters seek crucial redevelopment cash. However, as this off-stage drama recedes, Edinburgh’s Yuletide spectacle must carry on, as it does (for two years, at least) moving through the Meadows into the awe-inspiring surroundings of the Festival Theatre.
The Nicolson Street Hall is best known for hosting large-scale ballets, operas and musicals. There’s something exciting about seeing 72-year-old Allan Stewart lead the cast of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on the stage where Scottish Ballet performed their Coppélia just a few months ago.
Of course, much of the panto remains gloriously familiar. Dame Stewart is still, fabulously, as nimble as a man half her age, while her boo-hiss villain partner Grant Stott continues to inspire audience members young and old to raise the roof in the consternation.
The Festival Theater stage is considerably larger than the King’s, so this show features a larger (albeit generally garish) set and larger ensemble (including the Magnificent Seven, made up of a heptet of performers with dwarfism). Most spectacularly, the showroom stage’s larger scale allows Liz Ewing’s Evil Queen Dragonella to soar above the front of the stalls on the back of a truly impressive fire-breathing dragon.
The script (by Harry Michaels and Stewart himself) is full of the usual panto madness, even if the simple senses of a musical skit in the first act threaten the show’s family credentials. It’s the ad-libbing of Stewart, Stott and their comedic sidekick Jordan Young that amuses the most (notably in a particularly silly skit about short-sleeved shirts in the Sighthill area).
Clare Gray excels as the punk, rebellious daughter of Dragonella, Princess Lavinia, while Francesca Ross (Snow White) and Brian James Leys (Prince Hamish) provide thin-voiced, gleaming-toothed support. By the time the show draws to a close, to the rapturous applause of its grateful audience, it’s clear that Edinburgh’s big-stage panto have settled very well into their new temporary home.
Until January 22. Tickets: 0131 529 6000; capitaltheatres.com