Unlike the 2011 film version, Florence and Richard Atwater’s 1938 book has been returned to its original era (with a change in location from the US to the UK) in Pins and Needles’ production of Mr. Popper’s Penguins and it’s all the better for it.
House painter Mr. Popper lives a quiet life with his wife in Stillwater, but Mr. Popper has dreams, dreams of being an Antarctic adventurer, reading everything he can on the subject and listening for every radio broadcast from his hero Admiral Drake at the South Pole. After he sends a letter to his hero, he receives a strange crate in return – that crate contains a penguin (Captain Cook) and the Poppers’ life is inevitably turned upside down. When Captain Cook starts to fall ill, Admiral Drake sends him a female penguin companion and lots of little penguins soon appear. With their finances under stress, the Poppers train the waddle as a Music Hall act. Animal activists need not get themselves in a twist – an entirely appropriate ending ensues.
This is good old-fashioned storytelling at its best. With a spare but effective set, warm lighting, a gaggle of pleasing songs, simple but appealing penguin puppets and a captivating finale with some gentle audience participation, this endearing show held the attention of the mostly under fives who filled the auditorium for the entirety of the hour-long running time. Sometimes, simple and charming is best for small children. Altogether a warm and thoroughly enjoyable show for tiny theatre-goers.
The SEC Armadillo pantomime has gone all-out in its efforts to sparkle and shine brighter than its rivals: even before you enter there’s the dazzling 5 foot high letters spelling out the title of the show, then there’s the twinkling lights from the 20 foot Christmas tree, the flashing neon of the big wheel and the rainbow-hued SSE Hydro right next door. For sheer sparkling extravagance in set, costume and lighting design, no expense has been spared in this year’s offering, Cinderella. Cinder’s starlit crystal coach is a particular highlight, sparkling as it flies out above the audience.
There’s the cast too, Scottish TV comedy giants Jonathan Watson and Gavin Mitchell, music, theatre and River City star Frances Thorburn, musical theatre star Keith Jack and veteran comedy duo The Krankies.
The storyline is a simplistic and very streamlined version of the traditional tale: the two ugly step-sisters are mean to poor old Cinders (though not as mean as they could be); Cinders can’t go to the ball; the prince masquerades as a servant and falls in love with our heroine in the woods; Cinders gets her glad-rags on and goes to ball in disguise; Prince and Cinders are re-united; slipper gets lost; slipper finds its owner; the lovestruck pair get married, and yes, they all live happily ever after.
There’s no slapstick, no audience participation and no sweetie throwing as expected from a ‘traditional’ panto. There is however heavy reliance on The Krankies to provide the light relief, but their smut-laden and entirely inappropriate dialogue is woefully outdated in 2018 – and this comes from someone who is very much not of the ‘snowflake generation’. Watson and Mitchell are fine comic actors and do their best with the material given and Thorburn and Jack, both gifted singers only have a few short moments to show their considerable talents. They are all supported by a hard working, top-notch adult ensemble and a well-drilled children’s troupe from JazzartUK.
Very much geared towards adults, this is a beautifully staged panto, but I can’t help think that opportunities were wasted by the script writers and director with such a talented cast of actors.
The National Theatre’s acclaimed production of War Horse, based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo arrives at The SEC Armadillo from 15 January – 2 February 2019 as part of a national tour.
Joey, the life-size equine puppet from War Horse made a special early appearance in Glasgow next to The Duke of Wellington Statue last week as well as his home for January – The SEC Armadillo. The event also included a talk about the history of the show from War Horse’s Assistant Puppetry Director, Matthew Forbes.
The puppeteers operating Joey in Glasgow are: Gareth Aled (Head), Michael Taibi (Heart) and Antony Antunes (Hind).