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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Thursday, December 06, 2012

White Christmas, theatre review

Published in Northings

Pitlochry Festival Theatre

ON the first preview performance, the audience entered on an ordinary winter’s evening and left, so I’m told, to see the first snowfall of the season. We knew the Pitlochry technical team were good, but choreographing the weather is something else.

By the time I get there on the press night, the snow is lying thick on the ground and it’s impossible to think of a seasonal show better pitched at the Pitlochry audience. For the theatre’s third ever Christmas production, artistic director John Durnin has capitalised on the recent success of his summer musicals and fielded a bright and breezy backstage romance that feels just right for the time of year, despite lacking even the merest hint of panto.

By Durnin’s own admission, White Christmas is not the most sophisticated of stories. Based on the Bing Crosby/Danny Kaye movie of 1954, it is about the generation of American men who had to find their feet back home after serving in the second world war. While Vermont hotelier General Henry Waverly (James Smillie) struggles to adjust to civilian life without a battalion to command, his former army entertainers Bob Wallace and Phil Davis (Grant Neil and Simon Coulthard) respond in their contrasting ways to the sudden availability of adoring female fans.

The narrative requires only that Waverly comes to terms with his retirement, Davis settles down with a steady girl and Wallace finds true love after a misunderstanding. By the time the three strands come together, just before the curtain goes up on the closing concert, you get the impression even the writers have lost interest. All they ever needed was a framework to hang Irving Berlin’s fabulous songs on. The story is just an excuse.

And I doubt anyone’s complaining. From the moment Hilary Brooks’s ten-strong band strikes up, this is a big crowd-pleaser of a show. With no ambition to change the world, it’s an uncomplicated celebration of ensemble dance and pre-rock’n'roll popular song. And what songs! White Christmas . . . Sisters . . . How Deep Is the Ocean . . . they just keep on coming.

Some of the acting is less persuasive than the singing and, by going for a more generic West End-style cast, Durnin loses the quirky individuality that has distinguished some Pitlochry musicals. But Martine McMenemy and Grant Neal make adorable romantic leads, choreographer Chris Stuart-Wilson keeps the movement brisk and entertaining, and the whole show sends the audience home with a happy festive buzz.
© Mark Fisher, 2012

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