Arts: Pantomime: Mother Goose stays fresh, but Peter Pan shows his age

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The Independent Culture
THE NOTION of familiarity breeding contempt tends to get rather turned on its head when it comes to pantomime; it's in attempting anything other than the formulaic that the risk of audience antipathy lies.

No such chances have been taken at the King's, where an array of well- known local faces, headed by seasonal regulars Gerard Kelly and Barbara Rafferty, are serving up the full festive experience with all the trimmings. Well, nearly all - with no Dame or Principal Boy, the customary element of gender- bending is absent from the menu, but everything else is present and correct: a glamorously malevolent baddie, in Maureen Beattie's Dragonara, attracting the requisite boo-hiss quotient, a beleaguered heroine, a pair of clod-hopping secondary villains, a tussle between good and evil, a love-story or two, and the threat that all the children in the audience will meet with an unspeakable fate if the wrong 'uns triumph.

Together with plentiful cringe-making puns (largely on an eggy theme), dollops of slapstick and audience participation, and truckloads of camped- up glitz lavished on both costumes and sets, it all makes for an enjoyably sprightly foray into panto-world, ripe as Parmesan and cosy as Christmas itself, if a little too long at pushing three hours. References to The Phantom Menace, Austin Powers, and Kelly's notorious alter ego in Brookside, Callum Finnegan - an arresting contrast with his enthusiastic performance here as Mother Goose's scallywag son, Gussie - plus a succession of Top of the Pops-style routines from a lissom posse of dancers, add just enough freshness to remind us what year we're in, without disturbing the essentially timeless atmosphere.

A bit more timelessness wouldn't go amiss over at the Lyceum, where Stuart Paterson has added his usually magic touch to J M Barrie's classic fairy- tale. It may be verging on sacrilege to take issue with Peter Pan, but in this production at least, there's just a touch too much nannies-and- nurseries Edwardian middle-class prissiness (or is it just privilege?) underlying aspects of the tale to quite wash in 1999, especially surrounded by an audience of local schoolkids.

The central notion of what a mother represents, for example, is enacted in glaringly dated terms (though there's a nod to the travails of modern fatherhood in Robin Sneller's portrayal of Mr Darling), while the romantic innocence intended in Barrie's dialogue sometimes comes across as wide- eyed preciousness.

These problems are rendered more apparent by the slight bumpiness that besets the production as a whole in terms of its narrative flow. Having the Lost Boys doubling as the pirates creates considerable confusion in several scenes where the two are supposed to meet, while the story's climactic moments too often seem scrambled or stumbled over. Captain Hook needs to be a good bit scarier, too.

Visually, director Gregory Smith's convincingly magical set and costumes provide substantial compensation, and the flying sequences elicited plenty of oohs and aahs, while among a generally strong cast, Stuart Wilkinson as Peter successfully conveyed his character's darker, ambivalent quality - forever young and carefree, but fundamentally lost and lonely. Overall, though, not one of the Lyceum's vintage festive offerings.

Mother Goose, until 22 Jan, 0141 287 5511; Peter Pan, until 8 Jan, 0131 248 4848