Pure Scottish pantomime is an intimate experience, a conversation of old jokes and comfortable material between performers and audience. What then for the UK’s biggest pantomime - working the 3,000 seats of the SECC’s cavernous Clyde Auditorium with a show that, on the face of it, is about as Scottish as a dry day at the Edinburgh Fringe.
A scene from Robinson Crusoe and the Caribbean Pirates SECC Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow Photo: Iain McLean
It shouldn’t, but between them, John Barrowman and the exuberant pairing of the Krankies, make Robinson Crusoe work. And for all that Qdos have thrown not one but two full-blown and cleverly worked 3D experiences from Amazing Interactives at it, and a superbly scary animatronic sea monster from Twins Worldwide, it is to old-fashioned stagecraft that the trio turn for their success.
They are certainly helped by the local knowledge of writer Alan McHugh, who has spun Michael Harrison’s original script into a Glasgow-based story. He also makes great play of incorporating the Krankies’ own material into the show, giving yet another generation of Glaswegians the opportunity to thrill to the scurrilous naughtiness and toilet humour of Janette Krankie’s “dirrrrrty wee boy”.
The whole is not bereft of schoolboy errors. Sending out the dancing troupe to mouth the words to the opening song on a click track sends expectations tumbling. If their feet work tirelessly in time throughout the whole production, and what a crack troupe they are, their lips don’t sync as they set up the stage for Barrowman’s arrival.
Once on stage, however, Barrowman’s Robinson Crusoe ensures all this is instantly forgotten. There is nothing lacking in his performance, with attention to detail that is impeccable throughout.
Barrowman is rarely off stage, giving both his fans and those there for the panto full value for money. The song choices are strong (a version of Fireworks lights the place up) and there are plenty of them. He has lots of athletic dancing, the comedy routines with Janette Krankie as Robinson’s twin brother Wee Jimmy are excellently timed, and there is plenty of backchat about his sexuality as he ogles the considerable muscles of Jeremy Fontanet’s Man Friday.
The Krankies provide a wealth of basic Scottish comedy knowledge. Their original faux-ventriloquist act - diminutive Janette as a schoolboy dummy on Ian’s knee - gets an outing, but they work hard at the production as a whole. Their recent unforced revelations of sexual escapades while on tour in the eighties are given plenty of reference - adding considerably to the general level of smutty humour and to their three-in-a-bed moment in the ghost scene in particular.
The presence of Janette Krankie obviates the need for a traditional dame, and apart from a lack of thigh-slapping there is something of the principal boy about Barrowman. It is all very sexualised, though. Not all the adult material floats as far over the very young ones’ heads as you might want. There is, however, a real innocence about Miriam Elwell-Sutton’s tender and sweetly voiced Mermaid, who provides Crusoe’s love interest.
The loser in all the vastness is the sense of a coherent audience. There’s no possibility they could deafen themselves with their jeers for the baddy. Pete Gallagher works it well as villainous Blackheart the Pirate but while the baddy’s stock audience interaction lines are present and correct, the interaction itself gets lost in the huge space, becoming more a ritual call-and-response than anything organic.
That said, this is a bold show that works its socks off.