Published in the Guardian
IF anyone still thinks panto is a throwback to a misogynist past, they need to take a look at the MacRobert's glorious giant-slaying romp. Here, the fairytale is fuelled by a fiery female energy, with self-styled "panto-feminist" Jackie helping unmask a Wizard of Oz-style baddie who is little more than a boy with a broken heart. However ridiculous the women look, they are never so inadequate as the men.
Played by Helen McAlpine, this Jackie can sing and dance like the best of them, but she's determined to grow up into her own woman, unlike her soppy sister Jilly, played by Natalie Toyne, who can't wait to become the romantic lead. Jackie's path to independence looks assured, until her prepubescent suspicion of sex is upturned by a sudden lust for her sister's boyfriend, Billy Bisto.
The tug-of-love Billy (Paul James Corrigan) would rather shed his baddie persona and become a Buttons-style heart-throb in the manner of the late panto legend Gerard Kelly.
In other words, none of these characters is comfortable in the stock roles they have been given.
Even Jilly, with her overeagerness to burst into insipid song, is too quirky to be a conventional leading lady, while Jo Freer has an uncommon gutsiness as Fairy Mary Christmas, as likely to tamper disastrously with the plot as to sort things out with a wave of her magic wand.
At the raucous heart of this joyful show is Dot Von Trott, the one figure who's happy in her own skin (frequently, quite a lot of skin). Played by honorary woman Johnny McKnight, writer, director and star, this dame is a delirious lord of misrule. She is rude, waspish and funny, absolutely in her element in our austerity economy, and able to make you feel as if you are the only girl in the world.
© Mark Fisher, 2011 (Pic: Douglas McBride)