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Theatre Reviews: Christmas Adaptations

Michael Cox reviews Morgan & West--A (sort of) Christmas Carol, Jack and the Beanstalk and Black Beauty.

Theatrical adaptations of literary sources are a tough nut to crack, particularly during the Christmas season when audience expectation can be so high and demanding. Some productions try to keep to the spirit of the original story, while others decide to do their own thing.

Morgan & West: A (sort of) Christmas Carol (***) decides to walk a high wire between honouring Dickens’ classic and jettisoning the tale of miser Ebenezer Scrooge’s redemption by doing both. Robert West has come to do his job: perform magic for the paying audience. Rhys Morgan wants to act out the script he’s found backstage. Compromising, audiences are treated to a quick jaunt through the story with key moments highlighted by tricks.

And it’s all very enjoyable. Morgan and West are good performers: wonderfully cheeky and creative with terrific interplay—both with the audience and each other. And while none of the tricks here impress as much as in previous visits to Scotland, everything is done with good humour and fun.

‘Good humour and fun’ are words one might be inclined to use to describe the Edinburgh Kings production of Jack and the Beanstalk (***) depending on a single fact: why the ticket was purchased.

Make no mistake: this production might as well be called The Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott Show. Inside jokes and surface commentary abound, and the titular character of Jack is a glorified cameo in what is supposed to be his tale. It’s a shame as Greg Barrowman is really coming into his own now as a great leading male player, and in those rare occasions he’s actually front and centre the production soars.

So, those looking for a panto performance of Jack and the tall beanstalk leading to the realm of the giant might be underwhelmed. Fans of the actual trio of stars will probably be thrilled and amused, even if much of the shtick this year isn’t as sharp as past performances have been. It isn’t a bad show, but it is disappointing.

Disappointing is most certainly not a word that can be used for Black Beauty (****), a production that just might be the most creative and enjoyable theatrical experience currently running in Scotland. Andy and Andy McCuddy are brothers who have followed in the family business: playing a panto horse (named Hamish—adorable).

Times are hard and work has dried up, leaving the brothers with the sad prospect of selling family possessions for money. But one of the Andys has found their mother’s copy of her favourite story: Black Beauty. To pass the time, they act out moments from the book.

So, more original story about family and sibling bonding than a faithful retelling of the classic novel, but it all works wonderfully well. Andy Cannon and Andy Manley, along with Shona Reppe, have created a production full of brilliant theatricality. It isn’t just the excellent performances by Cannon and Manley that makes this a winning production but the ‘how’ in the staging. Everything, from the design and staging down to the small quiet glances Cannon and Manley give each other, makes this a production that is hilarious, touching and downright impressive. Not to be missed.

Morgan & West: A (sort of) Christmas Carol performs at the Festival Square Theatre until January 7, 2017. Jack and the Beanstalk performs at the Kings Theatre Edinburgh until January 15, 2017. Black Beauty performs at the Traverse until December 24, 2016 but returns for a Scottish tour throughout January and February of 2017.

Tags: theatre

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