Let’s face it, pantomimes can be a-bit problematic. Lots of productions now, even in these enlightened times, seem like they’re from decades ago, with elements of transphobia, sexism, and even racism in some cases. Which is a shame – at their best, pantos are fun, magical, and for me at least, they conjure memories of short winter evenings with my parents and grandparents, full of laughter and comfort. According to The Stage, around 3 million tickets are sold for pantomimes across the UK each year, and that number isn’t set to change any time soon. We want to keep going, but a lot of the time, we simply feel like we can’t.
Unless of course, we start seeing pantos that are a bit more with the times. A bit less damsel-in-distress and a bit more #metoo, a bit less evil stepmother and a bit more funny-without-being-mean. So it’s a real delight to see what The Byre is offering up for us for the next couple of months. Their pantomime Sleeping Beauty promises all the best bits of pantomime – all the fun, laughter, and memories – without the bits that make me squirm in my seat.
This year, they’re going for a bit of a twist on the classic Sleeping Beauty tale – set in Fantasia, a magical kingdom with a distinctly Scottish twist, the backdrop is similar to what you’d expect. A young Beauty (or, Bonnie, in this show) is cursed as a child by a jealous witch, and as her eighteenth birthday looms, fears of the curse being realised abound across the castle. But they say it themselves – ‘this Beauty is no snoozer’, and what we are treated to instead is the heart-warming, uplifting, and frankly, eye-opening story of a young woman making her own fate. And all through Britain’s most-loved festive art-form.
The show features a returning veteran cast from the last four years of St Andrews magic Kirsty Findlay, Stephanie McGregor and Alan Steele as well as the award-winning production team from Glasgow’s Bard in the Botanics. This magical retelling of one of the world’s favourite fairy-tale comes from the Writer/Director Gordon Barr – the creative genius behind previous challenging, unique, and exciting panto successes at The Byre Theatre. Featuring an extraordinary and unique set, spectacular costumes, plenty of singalong songs and audience participation, Sleeping Beauty promises a fun filled evening, transforming the Byre in a way you’ve never seen before.
Kirsty Findlay plays Sleeping Beauty, aka ‘Bonnie McTeuchter’. Kirsty brings much expertise, having starred in the rave reviewed Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour which was nominated for an Olivier Award. Joining her in a lead role is Byre panto newbie Samuel Pashby as ‘Prince Hamish McGuffin’. Samuel has performed in several reputed shows across the country including Cinderella at the Citizen’s Theatre, Glasgow and As You Like It at Shakespeare’s Globe, London.
New cast members also include Nicole Cooper as ‘Nessie McTeuchter’, who won a prestigious CAT Award in 2016 for an enthralling performance in Coriolanus at last year’s Bard in the Botanics festival in Glasgow. Stephen Arden, known for his role in Zombie Musical, also joins the gang to play ‘Raven La Corbie’.
Stephanie McGregor also returns to the Byre, this year playing ‘Minnie Minxster’. Stephanie has extensive theatre credits including The Monarch of the Glen at Pitlochry and Glasgow Girls for the National Theatre of Scotland as well as a number of Bard in the Botanics productions.
And finally, fabulous Panto Dame Alan Steele will bring oodles of laughs in his role as ‘Fairy Mary Doll’. Alan is a familiar face at The Byre having appeared in its previous six pantos. Alan has had a glistening career in theatre, performing at Royal Lyceum, Glasgow Citizens and Perth Rep as well as starring in many radio and television productions including River City and Taggart.
We’re in capable hands with the whole cast and crew for this exciting and refreshing adaptation of the Christmas classic – it’s exciting for me that I can go see a pantomime with friends, and not feel a little uncomfortable when gran guffaws at something she probably shouldn’t. Previews start this week, and it’s running right through the exam period. If you ask me, it looks like a cosy and welcome break from being holed up in the library for revision.
Sleeping Beauty at the Byre Theatre starts on Thursday 29th November, and runs until the 5th of January. Tickets vary between £13.50 and £15.50 for students. To book tickets or to see a full list of dates and times, head to the website www.byretheatre.com, or call the box office on 01334 475 000.