Christmas theatre and political subtext may not make the easiest of bedfellows, but this year’s pantomime at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre works hard to freight a contemporary message where only those who are looking might find it.
That this adaptation of A Christmas Carol is billed as being all-female is beside the point in this regard, and also something of a misnomer – two thirds of the six-strong cast are female, the other pair are panto dames. Yet beneath a surface which is both traditionally knockabout and expertly crafted, the sense of tension between the haves and have-nots of Dickens’ era is brought vividly up to date.
Writer and director Johnny McKnight is fast becoming known as the go-to theatre-maker in Scotland for Christmas pantomimes, with this year’s offering nailing its appeal to that trickiest of demographics, “all ages”.
His self-performed central character Aganeza Scrooge is an excellent grotesque, an overly made-up Merchant City (the affluent Glasgow city centre area which the Tron borders) hag who channels John Waters’ muse Divine with her ill-fitting gold-sequinned catsuit and wide prosthetic hips, and the sharp-tongued Glaswegian drag-queenery of Stanley Baxter.
Amidst a slew of fun musical numbers which merge contemporary and musical theatre influences, McKnight’s character is a great success, her garish appearance and rough, barking voice causing the kids to laugh on sight, and her sharp one-liners sticking with older audience members. “Ah havnae joked since Kylie’s face moved,” she rumbles at do-gooding charity collectors. “Skint men have been dating women with money for years, it's called equality,” she moans when forced to recall the great love who got away, “or Madonna's love life.”
The rest of the cast are excellent, including Darren Brownlie with the straight faced antidote to McKnight’s expert mugging, Helen McAlpine for her Ghost of Panto Future (a mild exaggeration of Glasgow seasonal stalwart Wee Jimmy Krankie) and Anita Vettesse’s Agadooing yuppie Marley, while Kenny Miller’s split-level set design is versatile and inventive.
Admittedly any show which sees a dragged-up harpy manhandle some poor guy from the audience and then close on an overblown version of Mariah Carey’s "All I Want For Christmas is You" isn’t to be taken too seriously, but in her disdain for the lower class denizens of the night bus or her taking advantage of Cratchit for a pauper’s wages, this Scrooge provides simple, timely lessons about mutual respect.