Published in the Guardian
King’s Theatre, Glasgow
AS Karl Marx nearly said, history repeats itself – the first time as pop music, the second time as panto. Whoever would have thought, watching Altered Images on Top of the Pops in 1981 that, 30 years later, we would see Clare Grogan in a spangly purple witch costume singing Happy Birthday to Princess Beauty, the night before the girl comes of age, with only a phalanx of dancing toys to foil her evil plan? When she segues into Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), only those of us of a certain age can remember it wasn't even one of hers.
Call it celebrity casting if you like, but Grogan adapts pleasingly well to the role of bad fairy Carabosse, turning in an imperious performance and relishing every wicked spell and curse. "In my kingdom, we don't get old, we stay like this for ever," she says, and every ex-Smash Hits reader is more than ready to believe it.
But if the star is holding back on the Gregory's-Girl-next-door charm, there are many other people on this stage eager to win our affections. Rather too many, in fact. Are we to root for Karen Dunbar's sneaker-footed Nanny Moira McClonky, good with a corny gag and her love of a singalong? Or should we be backing Arron Usher's cheery-if-perfunctory Jimmy Jingles the Jester? Should we, indeed, be seduced by Tony Roper's bad-boy Hector, who ends up with many of the show's best lines?
The answer is uncertain, which makes it hard to locate the heart of the production (it's not in the insipid romance, at any rate). The show is full of the customary King's generosity, raucousness and joy and, in Eric Potts's script, it has proper respect for the story, but it doesn't hit that extra level of sublime silliness of which this team is capable.
© Mark Fisher, 2011
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