Which pantomime to go to: Beanstalk, beauty or beast?
Our verdicts on the latest Christmas shows to open in Dublin and Cork
The cast of Rapunzel at the Gaiety
With this panto, MC Alan Hughes and writer Karl Broderick celebrate 20 years in the dame game, but far from a tired old piece of theatrical tat, the pair have proven why their old-school approach works a treat.
There’s something about the Tivoli panto that clicks with kids: what it lacks in tech effects, it more than makes up for in timing, humour and personality. Alan Hughes as Sammy Sausages draws the kids into this colouring-book world, and Broderick writes with the younger ones in mind, keeping the current affairs references – and the double-entendres – to a minimum.
This year’s cast features Mary Byrne as Queen Mary, Morgan Crowley as King William, Keila Ana Whelan as princess Aurora and Michele McGrath as the evil Malevolent. But it’s Rob Murphy as Buffy who sweeps through the show like Hurricane Ophelia having a bad hair day. Flaunting her gaudiest gear, firing out the one-liners and flirting with the daddies, Buffy is a force of nature: although what David Attenborough would make of this fabulous creature is anyone’s guess.
Mary Byrne puts her pipes to good use on It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World, and Taylor Swift’s Look What You Made Me Do is the perfect ice-queen anthem for Michele McGrath, but Broderick’s original tune Someone stood up nicely among the big hits.
There are a couple of scenes, particularly in the woods, where the plot seems to get lost, but the charm of this panto is lost on nobody.
Runs until January 14
Perhaps we have Waking the Feminists to thank for the latest offering from the Gaiety Panto team. Rapunzel offers us a stereotypical princess as a heroine, but it also offers us a female villain, the Evil Stepmother (Kathryn Rutherford), who loves nothing more than being booed. With the help of her sidekicks, the dimwitted duo Double (Donncha O’Dea) and Trouble (Stephen O’Leary), she is determined to keep the kidnapped princess locked up in her tower until her 18th birthday. However, Rapunzel (Ciara Lyons) has other plans.
Writer-director Daryn Crosbie finds the original fairytale a bit thin for a pantomime plot, and much of the script is given over to meta-theatrical meanderings. Rapunzel and her prince, Johnny B Goode (Johnny Ward), fade into the background as Nanny Ninny Noonah (Joe Conlan) and King Larry Lilly Loolah (Nicholas Grennell) demand a lock-in at the Snuggly Duckling, with predictable (and not entirely family-friendly) consequences. This stand-out scene is just one of several enjoyable ensemble set-pieces, in which the professional dancers and the kiddie cast get to showcase their skills. The confident blend of contemporary pop and obscure musical theatre numbers, performed live by the Gaiety House Band, also works well.
The production, literally, takes its cue from Disney. Pauline McCaul brings the cartoon costumes of Tangled to material life, but the scenic design also relies heavily on digital projection, bringing the Faraway Kingdom into impressive filmic closeup. However, there is still some magic missing from this old reliable: special effects just cannot compensate for a spineless story.
Until Jan 21
Polly and the Beanstalk
Olympia Theatre, Dublin
“They’re just another family; it’s just another house . . . and everybody loves developers.” That family are Jack (Ryan Andrews) and his mother, Polly (Rory Cowan) and their cow, Linda Martin, and they’ll be evicted by the evil giant if they fail to pay their rent and arrears by tomorrow. Pantomimes have to be topical, but these words hit uncomfortably close to home (or lack thereof).
The top-notch singing and dancing, with musical direction by David Hayes and choreography by Ciaran Keating, maintain a blistering pace from the opening number to the glittering finale. Andrews, and Julie Power as Jill, complement each other; musical guests Sean and Conor Price are received with rapture; and Cowan clearly relishes his costumes and his character, declaring that he’s had only a week to learn his lines.
Lots of the jokes, particularly Polly’s innuendos, have an over-their-young-heads appeal and there’s a hilarious, self-deprecating line-fluff, but the pull-the-udder-one cow-jokes (poor Linda Martin gets a hard time) can stand up without the badoom-tishes. (“We can’t live on the streets, it’s Fresian out there.”) Dustin shines as the golden goose (who, to the tune of Footloose, “lays those eggs for youse”) – and as his idol, Conor McGregor.
The giant’s employees, Emma Barry and Rob Vickers (both in gorgeous voice) are easy-target baddies. The audience is urged to boo at Angela (Barry), not just because she says she hates children but because “she’s so ugly”, and she’s German, which is hammered home by her accent (“Ve vant zat house”), her full-length red and black cloak and, most troublingly, by her near-goose-step.
Angela’s underling, Mr Diggins (straight from Áras an Uachtar Reoite) is played by Vickers, who kneels throughout and is hectored for his small stature (“Go home and run yourself a nice sink”). Diggins is often signalled with a burst of Amhrán na bhFiann and he punctuates the dialogue with his poetry and random Irish phrases. At times, it’s like watching Polly and the mean streak, with unforgiving swipes at public figures, barbs about Mrs Brown’s Boys and a lot of place-ism (“Roscommon is number one on Kipadvisor”).
At the end, when newly middle-class Polly points out that it’s no harm to be different – “She’s German, he’s a dwarf … and I’m a man” – she encapsulates how a tighter script (it’s credited to Karl Spain and Ryan Andrews) could have underlined that sentiment rather than amplifying caricatures. But the gaggles of giggling children whoop it up, radiating Christmas cheer without overthinking between the lines.
Until January 14
Beauty and the Beast
An unstoppable, or at least unstopping, flow of song, dance and slap-stick generates enough energy to power the Stadium of Light, if not Sunderland itself, in this CADA and Everyman presentation of a beloved old story. What is beloved, however, is also well known, and here the young audience is pages ahead of the script by Martin Higgins, which flies off in many different plot diversions from manic madcappery to moments of singular charm.
These elements are not evenly balanced, and the relish with which Michael Sands as Gasbag La Bouef and Fionula Linehan as Oui Oui deliver their lusciously accented French just about compensates for the frenzy of competing themes. Niamh O’Mahony as Beauty owns the stage and, singing with Keith Hanley as the Beast, ensures the survival of a convincing narrative. It restores all the pathos of a fantasy depending on the devotion of Beauty to her doddering father, a curse condemning the prince to life as a beast, and a redemptive miracle of true love in a race against time.
Choreographers Chrissy Cuttell and Kelly-Ann Murphy assemble their various groups into delightfully colourful and tuneful ensembles and the band is as committed to boisterous audience participation as the cast. Led by Ciaran Bermingham in drag with a crinoline swinging like a hammock, the appeal is direct and jovial, not least because the cascades of singers and dancers include a line-up suggesting that every shelf in Ireland is missing its elf.
Runs until January 14