For those of you who know anything about my personal life, it’s no surprise that I went to Inverness over Christmas. Given the season, I was interested in seeing what was on at the Eden Court. To my pleasure, it was Sleeping Beauty, a panto I had never seen before. Hurray! Two tickets were secured for the Christmas Eve matinee (for under 15 quid each), and we were in!
Of all of the pantos I’ve seen this year, none of them compared to the glamor and glitz of the Eden Court’s show. The good fairy seemed sequined from head to toe in silk chiffon, the dame (Nanny Knot) must have had eight costume changes, all of which were fully developed and quite funny (the first one tartan with poofy sleeves shaped like bagpipes – hysterical!), and the sets may have had bright colors but they were very professionally done. My understanding is that Scotland goes for a lot more social and cultural investment than England does, and in this production you could see the money.
I didn’t have a feeling of the history of this show, like I do for Hackney Empire and for Greenwich, for the evolution of recurring cast members (and dancers growing up in the show) and the expectations of the audience, so my expectations may not have been set properly. But I was shocked at how unresponsive the audience was, at how hard it was to get them do callbacks, and how hard the cast was having to work to get barely a peep out of them. Now, mind, the (Inverness) Empire theater is a barn, and the first five rows of the stalls seemed to be exclusively filled with people of the silver haired persuation, but, come on, boys and girls, let’s make an effort!
As we are familiar with Cinderella, I’ll give you the panto add-ons: a goofy father who needs to hire a nanny to help him raise his daughter, Belle; an extraordinarily good looking Prince Valiant (a booted Leading Boy whose ponytail far outshone Belle’s hair and whose tunic was shorter than every other male member of the court); and a jester, Muddles, who is building a time machine that has a curious resemblance to a certain familiar telephone box. Extra special fun was brought by the inclusion of very young dancing girl fairies (for the “gift” scene), including one who looked to be about six and yet stole the show when she gave Belle her curse-breaking blessing; and the completely unnecessary scene in which Muddles, Valiant, and Nanny Box time travel to the swinging sixties in an attempt to wind up at the palace just when Belle needs to be kissed or die. (It was a great excuse to throw in a song from Hairspray.)
I have to say, though, I was feeling a bit panto-ed out the day I went. I adored the lead fairy’s melodious Scottish accent, the references to local business and Scottish politics, and I may be scarred for life by the cream pie scene that featured “sausages standing up” (Nanny: “You’re making your own jokes to this, aren’t you?”). There was a great transformation scene in which the scenery turned into a dragon (which the prince had to fight). But with the dead audience, no costumes in the world could plug the gap. This panto had all of the ingredients it needed to be a good time, but it just didn’t seem to be very appreciated, and that took away the fun for me. I hope maybe the day I went just represented a certain matinee group and not the general levels of enthusiasm, because if this is really how Inverness feels about panto, I’d pack it in and give them A Christmas Carol next year instead. Bah, humbug, indeed!
(This review is for the 1PM performance that took place December 24th, 2013. It continues through January 5th. Props to the guy who got on stage for the “Dad dancing” sequence – if only the rest of the audience had been that fun!)