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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 19, 2013

Theatre Review: Cinderella/A Million Miles Away

Published in the Guardian
Cinderella/A Million Miles Away
His Majesty's Theatre/Lemon Tree, Aberdeen
THREE STARS
NO ONE would doubt Elaine C Smith is good casting as Cinderella's Fairy Godmother. As well as her star charisma (these days, as much from her run of HMT pantos as her role in Rab C Nesbitt), she brings maternal warmth, cheery rapport and wholesome good humour. 

Plus she has a pair of lungs on her. Whether she's leading a small army of Rod Stewart lookalikes in leopard-skin leggings, tartan scarves and blond wigs; doing a turn as Gladys McKnight singing Midnight Train to Huntly; or reworking the James Bond soundtrack as a big-haired Adele, she can match the best of them note for note.

But throw in Jordan Young as a loose-limbed Buttons, Alan McHugh and Iain Stuart Robertson as benign Ugly Sisters and Barbara Rafferty as a malevolent Demonica, and there's scarcely any room for poor Cinderella. In the lead role, Gillian Parkhouse shares two things with Ross William Wild's Prince Charming: an ability to belt out the chart hits and a cardboard cut-out character. We see little evidence of her exploitation, still less of her poverty and, when things start looking up, no sense of her nervousness at the ball nor wonder at her miraculous transformation.

The perfunctory treatment of this central story means that, for all the life and bonhomie in the performances, good gags about Donald Trump and old-fashioned light-entertainment values, there's not enough at stake for the happy ending to move us.

Elsewhere in Aberdeen at the Lemon Tree, Frozen Charlotte is taking a younger audience on an island adventure in A Million Miles Away (until 24 Dec). Its story about a girl getting to know her eccentric uncle is of little consequence, but it has a likeable home-made aesthetic and a touch of magic when it releases a sky-full of twinkling stars.
Mark Fisher
Until 5 January (01224 641122). Details: www.aberdeenperformingarts.com
© Mark Fisher 2013 
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Theatre review: A Christmas Carol

Published in the Guardian
Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
THREE STARS
With its hard-working cast, outbreaks of yuletide song and line-up of larger-than-life characters, this staging of the Dickens classic is as rich as a plum pudding. With its drive to race through the story, enthusiasm for the author's poor-but-honest sentiments and its general eagerness to please, it can also be as sickly sweet.

As portraits of Victorian illness, poverty and exploitation go, Andrew Panton's production is on the chirpy side. There is a suggestion it might not turn out to be so in the chainmail curtain that sweeps around Alex Lowde's set, glittering like the iciest of nights and preparing us for the cruel chains that bind Jacob Marley to the dark recesses of hell. Panton uses it to project wintry silhouettes and spooky animations, not least the outline of Christmas Yet To Come, the most chilling of Scrooge's ghostly visitations.

But for all that, it's a production disinclined to dwell on the dark side. Using the admired adaptation by Neil Duffield, it subjects Christopher Fairbank's Scrooge (suitably cantankerous and suitably chastised) to the minimum of supernatural torment before exposing him to the good honest values of community, friendship and plentiful carol singing. He has reason to learn his lesson, but he gets off lightly.

The actors tear into it with gusto, despite occasional discomfort with the English accents. They’re forever picking up instruments, swapping characters and pushing around the furniture for seamless transitions between scenes. They make bright, brisk work of it and their heart is clearly in the right place, but the most memorable part of the evening  comes after the tale is told. With Dickens dispatched, the ensemble joins in a stunning medley of carols spliced together by musical director Claire McKenzie as snow floats down on the auditorium. The audience shouts its approval and heads buoyantly into the night.
Until 4 January (0131 248 4848). Details: www.lyceum.org.uk
© Mark Fisher 2013 
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A Gay in a Manger preview

Published in the Scotsman
If you were trying to irritate a devout Christian, calling your festive entertainment A Gay in a Manger would be a good place to start. Confrontation is not, however, the intention of Laurie Brown, Rosana Cade and Adrian Howells, the team behind the Arches' semi-improvised adult revue. Rather, it is to provide a home to all the waifs and strays who feel neglected by the mass of family-orientated shows that dominate the theatre schedules at this time of year.

"It's a fun play on words and it gets across the tone of the show but it certainly isn't meant to be offensive," says Cade. "You're only going to complain about it if you're homophobic – and homophobia is wrong."

She adds: "We're definitely not anti-Christian, but we are offering an alternative way of looking at Christmas. In general, Christmas is very heteronormative and capitalist, and we're trying to create something outside of that. Everything around Christmas can be so sweet and this is something that's not sweet at all."

Cade, a self-styled queer artist, and her good friend Brown are known on the gender-bending cabaret scene as Tranny and Roseannah, roles they're reviving here. Brown, meanwhile, has the extra challenge of starring by day in the Arches' festive show for younger audiences, The Night Before Christmas, and by night in this X-rated alternative. "We're doing it on the same set, which is quite funny," says Cade.

Completing the trio is Howells, best known for a string of solo performance-art shows that have explored the nature of intimacy (in one, he gave each audience member a bath in moisturising milk and essential oils). "Adrian pushes Laurie and I to be a lot darker," says Cade. "He's got a very dark sense of humour."

Described as "John Waters hosting a festive Noel’s House Party," the show promises a cosy night in at Tranny and Roseannah's where the yuletide singalongs and festive storytelling are given an extra helping of camp. A team that thinks panto isn't camp enough already is clearly hardcore.

"It's dirty, trashy camp," says Cade. "We're using references from every kind of Christmas show imaginable, which does involve the Nativity and various pantomimes, but the style is queer outrageous cabaret. You'll find everything you'd expect in a Christmas show but done in a slightly different way than normal. It's a Christmas show for people who don't want to go to a pantomime."

A Gay in a Manger, Arches, Glasgow, 12–21 December.
© Mark Fisher 2013 
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Rachel O'Riordan interview

Published in the Scotsman
RACHEL O'Riordan always knew Cinderella would be the last show at Perth Theatre before it shut down for a two-year refurbishment. That was why, when she commissioned playwright Alan McHugh, she asked him to set the classic fairy story not in a stately home but in a theatre. It means Cressida, the evil stepmother, is now a reckless manager running her theatre into the ground, while Buttons is employed front-of-house as an ice-cream seller. 

"I wanted to reference the fact that we were closing our doors," she says. "I wanted to remind our audience they were in their local theatre and they'll need to come back to it. Cinderella is also about transformation, and the transformation of the theatre is another reason I chose to do it now."

What O'Riordan couldn't have foreseen, however, was that Cinderella would mark the end of her own three-year reign in Perth, a tenure that has earned her considerable acclaim, not least in the annual Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland. Come February, she'll be packing her bags for Cardiff, where she is to take over the Sherman Cymru theatre.

It means this farewell pantomime will have a special resonance for her. "I love this theatre and I've had three brilliant years here," she says. "The fact I'm going means it does feel particularly on the nose and poignant."

She'll be sorry to go, but she's proud of what she's achieved. "I've done some of the best work I've ever done in my life on this stage," says the director whose hits have included the hostage drama Someone Who'll Watch Over Me and the supernatural soul-searching of The Seafarer.

With Cinderella, she'll be bowing out on a lighter note. The rags-to-riches story comes with all the requisite songs, dance routines and panto paraphernalia as Helen McKay takes on the title role, while Barrie Hunter and Michael Moreland play the Ugly Sisters. And, after O'Riordan's recent male-dominated Macbeth, it's a chance for her to explore her feminine side.

"It's an archetypal story about young women and finding strength," she says. "With the evil stepmother and fairy godmother characters, Alan McHugh has done something really interesting about women and power. I'm quite sympathetic towards Cressida and her desperate desire to survive! Then you've got this other kind of power that comes from the fairy godmother who is entirely altruistic but nobody's fool either. They are fabulous counterpoints to each other."

Cinderella, Perth Theatre, 6 December–4 January.

© Mark Fisher 2013 
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Peter Panto preview (Tron)

Published in the Scotsman
IF they had sweepstakes about the season's most promising pantos, the smart money would be on Johnny McKnight. For one thing, backing the multitalented entertainer is a good way of spreading your bets. In Stirling, he is writing, directing and starring in Beauty and the Beast, a traditional romp that promises to be "part Grease, part Downton Abbey", while in Glasgow, he is the author of Peter Panto and the Incredible Stinkerbell, the latest in a long line of wittily subversive pantos at the Tron that dates back to the days of Forbes Masson and Alan Cumming and beyond.

Sitting in the director's chair is Kenny Miller, who was the designer of McKnight's Aganeza Scrooge last year and several Tron pantos before. He's been having a whale of a time. "It is hard work but if you have the right cast, then it is good fun," he says. "And I've got a great cast."

He certainly does. As well as the quick witted Sally Reid and Anita Vettesse (recent stars of McKnight's production of Blithe Spirit at Perth Theatre, another Miller design), there's the talented Helen McAlpine and Darren Brownlie, two more Tron panto veterans. There's also an all-new set of songs by Ross Brown. "You can't help but have fun when you've got a line-up like that," says Miller. "And also it's a Johnny McKnight script and they are just genius fun. It's brilliant ending the year off with something as mad as this. It’s so nice to go into a rehearsal room and laugh every day."

One of the pleasures of the Tron panto is in its small-scale intimacy and hand-knitted charm. The cast have to work hard and the audience have to use their imaginations: don't expect to see too much magical flying in this Peter Pan. It also gives the team a chance to upturn a few preconceptions. With Vettesse playing Captain Hook – rechristened Captain New Look – this is a panto with a feminist agenda.

"It's interesting to be able to work in the rehearsal room with a lot of women – and really talented women at that," says Miller. "Having a woman playing Captain Hook brings a different energy to it. By mixing those things that you normally get in pantomime – Dandini being played by a woman – and putting it into such a strong character as Captain Hook, it completely alters the energy of the story."

Peter Panto and the Incredible Stinkerbell, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, until 4 January; Beauty And The Beast, MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling, until 5 January.

© Mark Fisher 2013 
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A Christmas Carol preview

Published by the Scotsman
IT'LL come as no surprise that a show staged by Susan Boyle's vocal director is big on music. Working on his Royal Lyceum production of A Christmas Carol, Andrew Panton is in raptures about Claire McKenzie's arrangements. 

"She's reworked traditional carols and songs in a very interesting score," says the director, taking time out from his day job as associate head of musical theatre at Glasgow's Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. "There's something about live music in a Christmas show that's really important. It allows you to communicate visually, through the text and through the music's own language. Recontextualising these familiar carols is really exciting."

But Panton has more strings to his bow than music. In his time, he has worked as a choreographer and movement coach, while his stints as a director include assisting on the National Theatre of Scotland's globally celebrated Black Watch. Consequently, he promises his Victorian-set production of the Dickens classic will be an all-hands-to-the-pump piece of ensemble theatre with a strong storytelling ethos.

"It really is multifaceted," says Panton. "The actors are playing instruments, singing and doing a lot of physical work, so it's very integrated."

With Auf Wiedersehen Pet star Christopher Fairbank learning his lesson as Scrooge, alongside a multitasking cast that includes Lewis Howden, John Kielty and Pauline Knowles, Panton says the adaptation by Neil Duffield (seen a few years ago at Dundee Rep) does tremendous justice to Dickens. "It's very loyal to the original story and takes as much of the detail as it possibly can, but it keeps moving and tells it in such a way that it's like a car chase at the end. There's no baggage on it; it's absolutely lean."

For all the pace ghostly atmosphere, the moral power of Dickens's novel is undiminished. Panton is in doubt of its continued appeal. "The story of a man who made mistakes, was given options and chose the wrong one and then is given this other chance to look back, reflect and make different choices has a universality of emotion," he says. "It's a universal story, whether it's a Dickensian character in London or your next-door neighbour. The question of choices could not be more relevant to young people today because they're being exposed to much more coverage of what's happening in the world. Life is all about choice now and that's what this piece captures."

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, 28 November–4 January.

© Mark Fisher 2013 
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Nikolai Foster interview Jungle Book

NIKOLAI Foster hasn't had much sleep since he got to Glasgow. For the past few weeks, the theatre director, born in Copenhagen, raised in Leeds, has been kept up at night thinking about his production of The Jungle Book. 

On one level, what's been bothering him is just the responsibility of putting on a good show, one that could turn out to be a defining experience in some young theatregoer's life. Like any director, he's determined to get that right.

But on a deeper level, it's about Rudyard Kipling's story itself. Look properly at this classic tale and you'll find a fable that is rich in the kind of themes that get under your skin. That's why talking to Foster is like interviewing an actor haunted by playing Hamlet. He's become possessed by this 120-year-old story and, whether it's aimed at a family audience or not, its serious ideas have been keeping him awake.

"There are lots of outsiders in this play and I find that very moving and upsetting," he says. "Mowgli is an outsider, the snake is an outsider and Shere Khan is an outsider. They've all be ostracised because they're different. That's one of the things that attacks me personally."

If the director is sleep deprived, however, he's not showing it. Over lunch in a rehearsal break, he seems to have drawn energy from Stuart Paterson's adaptation. He talks animatedly about a staging that aims to be both true to Kipling's spirit and tuned in to 21st-century urban life. With a nod to the past, he has worked with Paterson to reinstate the author's original poems. With an eye on the present, he is setting them to the kind of rhythms more familiar to fans of hip hop and rap.

Compared with the script's first outing in Birmingham in 2005, which came complete with a set of songs by BB Cooper and Barb Jungr, this version offers us more of Kipling's verse, as well as the upbeat arrangements of Sarah Travis, a Tony Award-winning orchestrator. "It feels like a more complete whole," says Foster. "We're asking our actors to do parkour, free running, hip hop, body locking and also play instruments, so we've gone for a garage band sound with found objects, bins and dustbin lids."

The music chimes in with the approach taken by Takis, the award-winning Romanian designer, whose set has as much in common with inner-city skate parks and concrete underpasses as it does with the wilds of Kipling's jungle. It might sound a surprising choice, but Foster says it's in keeping with the spirit of this pioneering theatre. "The Citz is renowned for creating challenging, exciting and anarchic work," he says. "So I thought, stuff the jungle, let's make it an urban, contemporary jungle, let's make it a playground. It's a world where we suggest a jungle."

In Foster's production, Jake Davies plays Mowgli the man-child, who is brought up by wolves before encountering Baloo the bear, Bagheera the panther and Shere Khan the tiger. As this feral boy approaches adulthood, he must decide whether to stay in the animal kingdom or enter the domain of his fellow human beings.

For many people, the story is inextricably associated with Disney, but the director hasn't watched the animated version since childhood and has made a point of avoiding it. When it popped up on a shop's TV monitors recently, he swiftly walked the other way. He'd rather put his own stamp on the story than be inadvertently influenced by such a famous retelling. "What we are blessed with – and I mean truly blessed – is Stuart Paterson's adaptation," he says. "It's brilliant. It's uncompromising, straight-forward and direct, and it doesn't patronise the young audience at all. It's a serious coming-of-age drama. It's about boy to man. It deals with birth, rites of passage, being educated, being adopted, the challenges we face as adults and the decisions that define us."

The ideas don't stop there. He sees Kipling's story about men intruding on the animal world as a metaphor for colonisation. He hears many resonances of Shakespeare: King Lear in the death of an empire; Richard III in the limping Shere Kahn; and The Tempest in the story's magical elements. And he is fascinated by the author's theme about adoption. "There is lots of talk in the news about how a child's nurture is affected if it is adopted by somebody of a different religion. What The Jungle Book does so brilliantly is to suggest a child, regardless of race, culture, religion, background and class, if they're brought into a new environment and given love, they can achieve anything."

When it comes to representing the jungle creatures on stage, the director has some useful experience. Five years ago at West Yorkshire Playhouse, he directed an adaptation of George Orwell's Animal Farm and was faced with a similar challenge. How do you get people to play animals without looking silly? His solution is to avoid attempts to walk on four legs and to underplay the animalistic mannerisms, focusing instead on character. In that way, the audience focuses on the drama instead of the pretence.

"When an actor creates a character, it is an imaginative and psychological response to who that character is, and when the actor starts to get a sense of that, their physicality changes," he says. "I learnt on Animal Farm that we didn't need to have sticks to make them into quadrupeds, we just needed an extension of the same methodology. The animal world is exciting to play because the stakes are high and it's very immediate. You take the physicality you would normally use two or three steps forward. The more human these animals are, the better because it's a human narrative. It just needs a subtle shift in the way they move."

He adds: "This is a very complex story told very simply. If we tell it with clarity, flare and movement then the audience will start to challenge themselves with the complexity of what Kipling was writing about."
Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, 30 November–5 January


© Mark Fisher 2013 
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Limbo at Edinburgh's Christmas

Published in the Scotsman
SAY what you like about contortionists, but there can't be many who took up their profession after ditching a high-flying academic career. That's what happened to Jonathan Nosan. Today, you'll see him bending over backwards with astonishing suppleness as one of the big-top turns in Limbo, a thrilling circus spectacular taking residence in Edinburgh for the Christmas season after an acclaimed run on London's South Bank. But back in 1994, he was a dedicated young graduate in geography and Asian studies who had recently embarked on a Fulbright scholarship in Japan. 

He was there to study the "design of sacred space of new religious movements" and looked set to pursue a bookish career sat behind a desk. Settling in for a year living in a wood cabin in the northwest mountains of Kyoto, he had little in his background to suggest he might run away with the circus. But when he went to see Canada's Cirque du Soleil, which was in Tokyo on a world tour, something clicked. Almost over night, he committed himself to a life of acrobatics. Out went the textbooks and in came the painstaking task of transforming his body into the rubber-limbed phenomenon we see today.

"I was on a PhD track," he says, sitting in London's evening air after another sell-out performance. "I had spent 15, 20 years strengthening the brain muscle and I felt it was time to do the other muscles."

He embraced circus skills with the same obsessiveness he had applied to his academic studies. In Kyoto, he learned butoh, the high-precision form of Japanese dance; in London, he trained with physical theatre guru Philippe Gaulier; and in San Francisco, he developed his contortion skills. Whether he was exercising his mind or his body, he recognised no middle ground. "They're both extreme things," he says. "The whole nature of where I come from is delving into things extremely. I've always been attracted to the more esoteric realms either of academia or circus. Contortion is on the brink, it's pushing things to the extremes."

To get a sense of how unusual this is, you need look no further than his Limbo co-star Danik Abishev. This master of hand balancing has been performing in circus since the age of four, initially in his native Russia and more recently in Australia where his family emigrated. For Nosan to wait until he was 24 before starting to develop his physical skills meant he had decades of catching up to do. Yet, despite having no double-jointedness or even any special aptitude that would set him apart from the rest of us, he has become one of the best in the business. His skills have landed him stuntman roles in Big Fish, The Bounty Hunter and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

"I didn't have a natural flexibility," says Nosan, who was a keen juggler and magician as a teenager. "There's nothing natural about what I do. It’s all trained – and trained well. When Cirque du Soleil was in Tokyo, it was a brand new thing at the time. I went and saw it, especially the contortionists and, even though it resonated in my body, it seemed slightly impossible. I met one of the performers afterwards who told me about Philip Gaulier's physical theatre school in London and a month later I got on a plane and spent a year with him."

Did he discover any native talent? "Not really. I really sucked! It's really hard. It took me three years to get a straight handstand which is the essence of Chinese contortion. To properly do a cartwheel, it took me a year. There wasn't a lot of natural feeling, but the more I did it, the more I wanted it. I have a laser-like focus."

Performed in a Spiegeltent with the audience nestling in at close quarters to the raised central stage, Limbo is at once steeped in end-of-the-pier tradition and held together by a very 21st-century aesthetic. Like all great circuses, it has fire eating, backflips and breathtaking trapeze (sometimes right over the audience's heads), but it also has a tremendous live score that manages to embrace everything from oompah to hip hop. There's magic, sword-swallowing and tap dancing, as well as a ringmaster who holds everything together without saying a word.

"This show is very different from 99% of circus shows," says Nosan. "My piece, for example, is not typical circus. It isn't a Spandex leotard ta-da act. None of them are. There are subtexts and sub-narratives and things that are happening beyond the trick. The stillness that's between the tricks sucks people in and keeps them there. It has a more theatrical element than ta-da circus."

It is the oddball mix of talents that appeals to director Scott Maidment, a former Shakespearean actor who became transfixed by the energy of circus. He didn't want just any old acrobats, but multitalented performers with extra strings to their bows. "I could name a 100 people who can do a Chinese pole act," he says. "But in this show, I can say, 'Yes, you can do the Chinese pole, but the reason you're in Limbo is you can also beatbox, play the guitar, sing, dance and be a clown.' I spent a lot of time talking to the cast about what else they can do. I found out the aerialist could play the piano accordion and she was a singer and dancer. That's more attractive to me because what I like when I see a show is to go, 'Those people can do anything!'"

The same principle applies to the three musicians who, between them and the other performers, get through over 50 instruments in each show. "The first ingredient I wanted was some great live music," says Maidment. "Then I wanted something that would be close to the audience and would be around them and not just on the stage. I wanted some great people to look at and some great skills. I had all these ingredients and all I needed to do was mix it up and cook it."

He sees the appeal of circus as being akin to that of sport. As a species, we love to see a performer, whether athlete or acrobat, pushing the human body seemingly beyond what's physically possible. "One of the beauties of circus is that they've got two arms and two legs just like I have – we're essentially just the same, except they're doing extraordinary things. They don't need gravity. That's the buzz: everyone thinks, 'They're just like me but I can't imagine standing on that pole, handstanding or doing a backflip.' That's what creates the electricity in the air."

Holding Limbo together is a theme about the terrain between heaven and hell, but Maidment is happy for the audience to make whatever sense it wants out of it. He and the performers have a way of talking about the show in terms of the journey each of them goes on, a broad narrative that gives Limbo shape and atmosphere, but it's not important for anyone else to know about it. "If you want to, you can read lots of things into this," he says. "Or can you just sit there and enjoy the amazing bodies, the great skills and the great music."

Limbo, Edinburgh's Christmas, 22 Nov–5 Jan
© Mark Fisher 2013 

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Christmas show round-up 2013

ABERDEEN: HIS MAJESTY'S THEATRE
The show:
Cinderella
The story so far: Once the reigning queen of the Glasgow panto, Elaine C Smith moved her court north in 2009 and was duly embraced by the good citizens of Aberdeen. Since then, her shows, with top-quality scripts by Alan McHugh, have gone down a storm.
What to expect: Traditional panto values plus much mirth as Barbara Rafferty plays the Wicked Step-Mother opposite Smith's Fairy Godmother.
Dates: 30 November–5 January.
If you like this, try: Sleeping Beauty, Eden Court, Inverness.


DUNDEE REP
The show
: The BFG
The story so far: The Rep has a tradition of family-friendly Christmas shows with a strong narrative drive – and it's business as usual in this first winter season under the eye of joint artistic directors Philip Howard and Jemima Levick.
What to expect: Joe Douglas, star of his own Fringe hit Entertaining Ronnie, directs the Roald Dahl favourite in an adaptation by David Wood. Puppeteer Ross Mackay brings a special perspective on the outsize adventure.
Dates: 28 November–31 December.
If you like this, try: The Little Mermaid, Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy.


EDINBURGH: FESTIVAL THEATRE
The shows:
The Selfish Giant and Irving Berlin's White Christmas: the Musical
The story so far: The EFT's chic new studio theatre should be a perfect fit for Wee Stories, one of Scotland's most gifted children's theatre companies, while the mainstage has a history of offering classy seasonal alternatives.
What to expect: Oscar Wilde's story about a giant whose garden remains in perpetual winter has a haunting power and a poignant moral. In this stage adaptation, actor/director Iain Johnstone promises music, magic and "some pretty extreme weather". The forecast is not quite so severe in the Berlin musical, which should prove one big romantic treat.
Dates: 3–24 December and 29 November–4 January.
If you like this, try: The LicketyTale of Molly Whuppie, North Edinburgh Arts Centre.


EDINBURGH: KING'S THEATRE
The show
: Peter Pan
The story so far: Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott have built up an unassailable reputation as the panto A-team, producing one of the country's most successful – and funniest – shows. Lest complacency set in, they're pulling out all the stops for the 2013/14 season.
What to expect: With a new creative team behind the scenes, this swashbuckling panto version of the JM Barrie classic promises a few surprises alongside the boos for Stott's Captain Hook, the cheers for Gray's Smee and the swoons for Stewart's Mrs Smee.
Dates: 30 November–19 January.
If you like this, try: Sleeping Beauty, Brunton, Musselburgh.


EDINBURGH: ROYAL LYCEUM
The show:
A Christmas Carol
The story so far: The Lyceum has built its festive reputation on high production values and strong narratives – and they don't get much stronger than Dickens's seasonal morality tale.
What to expect: Susan Boyle's vocal director Andrew Panton takes his place in the director's chair promising "lots of music and singing" alongside the fast-paced drama. Christopher Fairbank (Moxey in Auf Wiedersehen Pet) plays Scrooge.
Dates: 28 November–4 January.
If you like this, try: It's A Wonderful Life, Pitlochry Festival Theatre.


EDINBURGH: TRAVERSE
The shows:
Ciara and The Polar Bears Go Wild
The story so far: Never certain whether to go down the Christmas route or stick with the new writing it does best, the Traverse has taken to offering one thing to the adults and another to the kids.
What to expect: For the grown-ups, it’s a second chance to see Blythe Duff on exceptional form in David Harrower's Fringe hit about the daughter of a Glasgow gangster. For the under-fives, it's a chance to catch up with a much-loved Arctic adventure by Fish and Game first seen in Stirling last year.
Dates: 3–21 December and 5–21 December.
If you like this, try: The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot, MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling.


GLASGOW: ARCHES 
The shows: The Night Before Christmas and A Gay In A Manger
The story so far: Specialising in bijou fairytales for younger audiences and left-of-centre alternatives for the grown ups, the Arches keeps that underground vibe going for all ages.
What to expect: Much enjoyed on its first outing in 2009, Rob Evans's tale of a girl who has to help a lost elf get back to Father Christmas should delight the under-sevens. Catering to a somewhat different market, Tranny and Roseannah's X-rated romp is billed as "John Waters hosting a festive Noel’s House Party".
Dates: 4 December–5 January and 12–21 December.
If you like this, try: The Uglies, Oran Mor.


GLASGOW: CITIZENS
The shows:
The Jungle Book and Bauble Trouble
The story so far: It's a panto-free zone at the Citz, where seasonal storytelling theatre is the order of the day.
What to expect: Stuart Paterson, once ubiquitous on the Christmas-show circuit, has adapted the Rudyard Kipling favourite about a boy hanging out with the animals for this production featuring acrobatics, hip-hop dance and rap. The under-sixes should head to the Circle Studio for silly songs and slapstick.
Dates: 30 November–5 January and 4–29 December.
If you like this, try: The Snow Queen, Cumbernauld Theatre.


GLASGOW: KING'S
The show:
Aladdin
The story so far: One of the best-cast of the big-city pantos, the King's stands on a reputation for traditional glitz and daftness that goes back decades.
What to expect: With Karen Dunbar as the Slave of the Ring and Des Clarke as Wishee Washee, there'll be no shortage of laughs in this year's romp – that's when we're not cowering at the sight of Gavin Mitchell's Abanazar.
Dates: 6 December–12 January.
If you like this, try: The New Adventures Of Pinocchio, Pavilion, Glasgow or Dick McWhittington, SECC, Glasgow.


GLASGOW: TRAMWAY
The show:
Red Shoes
The story so far: Usually too busy with contemporary art and cutting-edge performance to think about the festive season, the Tramway has undergone a Scrooge-like conversion with its first ever winter show.
What to expect: Pitching at younger children from non-Christian backgrounds, singer, dancer and actor Judith Williams plays Judy Two Shoes, a girl caught between duty and instinct as she wanders between city and forest.
Dates: 29 November–21 December
If you like this, try: The Edibles, Platform, Easterhouse.


GLASGOW: TRON
The shows:
Peter Panto And The Incredible Stinkerbell and Remember December
The story so far: With a 25-year history of self-referential panto playfulness, the Tron has, of late, widened its remit to offer something for younger audiences too.
What to expect: Even though Johnny McKnight is playing the Dame in Stirling, he's found time to turn out this Glaswegian take on the JM Barrie classic which, safe to say, will be none too reverential. Meanwhile, the under-sixes can share the dilemmas of a girl who forgets to post her letter to Father Christmas.
Dates: 29 November–4 January and 30 November–24 December
If you like this, try: Beauty And The Beast, MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling.


PERTH THEATRE
The show:
Cinderella
The story so far: Final show before the theatre closes for a two-year refit and the last to be staged by artistic director Rachel O'Riordan before her departure to Cardiff.
What to expect: Written by the talented Alan McHugh, a veteran of the HMT panto, this rags-to-riches panto stars Helen Mackay in the title role being bossed around by Barrie Hunter and Michael Moreland as Luvvie and Darling, the ugly sisters.
Dates: 6 December–4 January.
If you like this, try: Pinocchio, Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline.
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