There’s a deliberate cheapness to the temporary, painted proscenium arch erected in the Brunton’s theatre-space, indicative of this local panto’s rough ’n’ ready (and necessarily low-budget) approach that, when it works, nevertheless keeps its audience—on the night of this review, predominantly under the age of 10—genuinely entertained. And that’s without having to resort to any glittery special effects; simply having a cast member emerge from behind the audience has some amazed.
both Short and McLeish are sharply on-the-ball when it comes to keeping things moving
Like so many European folk tales, the story of “Beauty and the Beast”—of how a young girl comes to love and save/tame a beastly man—has been pretty much trademarked in our imaginations by “the Mouse”. That said, this new version by Brunton-regular Mark Cox is less Disney, more “disnae”—and comes with an obligatory scattering of usually negative references to some of Musselburgh’s neighbours, such as Tranent, Prestonpans and Longniddry. Strangely enough, though, Edinburgh itself doesn’t get a single mention; a calculated slight, perhaps, to a Scottish capital that’s easily capable of overlooking its own neighbours?
Anyway: James Boal plays Prince Hamish, all to aware of how dashing and handsome he is. While out “training” for the 400th Massive Muddy Musselburgh Marathon, he and his manservant Fraser (Raymond Short) cross paths with the husband-seeking Mordena (Julie Coombe). She suggests they get hitched, but Hamish declines; in iconic “scorned woman” behaviour, this sorcerer turns him into a hairy, howling beast. Only true love will break the spell, which is why Fraser persuades bright and bubbly Katie (Eilidh Weir) to stay at the Castle, along with “Auntie” Agnes Anderson (Keith McLeish) and her son Angus (Martin Murphy).
The end result of this story is hardly in doubt, despite the best efforts of Mordena and her man-servant Murdo (Mat Urey) to stack-up the Boos. Nor does it help that Boal provides a far more nuanced Beast than supposedly heroic Prince, hindered by a black-out transformation that lasts too long. Thankfully, both Short and McLeish are sharply on-the-ball when it comes to keeping things moving, but one feels sorry for Murphy, all too often surplus to requirements in the side-kick stakes. Weir has a great singing voice, but lacks the opportunany emotional development.
Unlike previous Decembers, this year’s Brunton production is remarkably short—two 45 minute halves. Even for a panto, it feels a tad insubstantial, although some obligatory scenes—such as the ghostly “It’s behind you!”—at least feel they have a place in the drama. Nevertheless, when the actors’ plot-driving dialogue is repeatedly drowned out by the crowd, it’s perhaps time to pause and enjoy the audience interaction, instead of rushing straight for the finale.