It has been more than a century (116 years to be precise) since Edinburgh’s grand King’s Theater first staged the city’s biggest pantomime. Since then, the venue has become synonymous with men in coats, loud audience participation, and festive antics of all kinds.
That tradition (hopefully temporary) comes to a standstill this year as the much-loved playhouse goes dark, as the owners of Capital Theaters seek crucial redevelopment money. However, as this offstage drama fades away, Edinburgh’s Yuletide show must continue (for at least two years) as it did by moving from the Meadows to the big circle of the Festival Theatre.
The Nicolson Street venue is mostly known for hosting ballet, opera and big stage musicals. There’s something exciting about seeing the 72-year-old Allan Stewart cast of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs take the stage when the Scottish Ballet presented their Coppélia just a few months ago.
Of course, many things about the panto are gloriously familiar. Dame Stewart is still incredibly agile as a man half his age, while his booing villain partner Grant Stott continues to inspire audiences young and old to raise the roof in amazement.
The Festival Theater stage is significantly larger than the King’s stage, so this show features a larger (albeit typically garish) set and a larger ensemble (including the Magnificent Seven, which consists of a dwarfed seven-star). Most notably, the larger scale of the playhouse scene allows Liz Ewing’s evil Queen Dragonella to soar above the front of the pods behind a truly impressive, fire-breathing dragon.
The script (by Harry Michaels and Stewart himself) is filled with the usual panto frenzy, even as the only entries in a first-act musical skit threaten the show’s family credentials. Most amusingly, Stewart, Stott, and their hilarious sidekick Jordan Young improvise (at least in a particularly tongue-twisting silly skit about short-sleeved shirts in the Sighthill area).
Clare Gray features as Princess Lavinia, Dragonella’s rogue and rebellious daughter, while Francesca Ross (Snow White) and Brian James Leys (Prince Hamish) offer thin-voiced, sparkly-toothed support. As the show concludes to enthusiastic applause from the appreciative audience, it’s clear that Edinburgh’s grand stage pant has been beautifully settled into its temporary new home.
until January 22. Tickets: 0131 529 6000; capitaltheatories.com