Attending a pantomime as a student in St Andrews is a strange experience. Doing so by oneself is even stranger. Pantomimes are very much a family affair, so being the lone twenty-two-year-old in a sea of mummies, daddies, kiddies and grandparents made me feel slightly like I’d infiltrated enemy lines and was waiting to be discovered as an imposter. Despite this, the excitement in the theatre was palpable, children and adults alike enjoying the festive playlist and getting in the mood for this classic British tradition.
The production itself was of a very high standard. The night I attended a problem with a lighting deck meant that the second act had to be paused and restarted a few minutes in, but despite this it was a real pleasure (as someone who rarely sees anything but student theatre during term time) to see a piece of theatre that was so slick and polished. The budget allowed for beautiful, professional costumes and sets, from a palace interior complete with an enormous Christmas tree, to a Scottish glade with standing stones. Without the constraints of time and experience that so often plague student productions, the lighting and sound, despite their complexity, were flawless.
The acting was exactly what one would expect and hope for in a pantomime: ridiculous, over-the-top, fun. The cast even dare to speak in *gasp* regional accents, which is refreshing in a town that often feels more like it’s in the south of England or somewhere in the US than on the Fife coast. Kirsty Findlay as Bonnie, the princess of this Scottish Sleeping Beauty, shows off her incredible voice in some excellent solos, and Stephanie McGregor as her maid Minnie is wonderfully exuberant in a role clearly aimed mostly at entertaining the children rather than the grown-ups. Queen Nessie McTeuchter, played by Nicole Cooper, is appropriately silly in her fits of weeping, but nevertheless manages a touching pathos in her scenes, showing her loving but difficult relationship with her daughter. The real highlight (as it should be in any pantomime) is the Panto Dame – or dames, in this case, as we get two for the price of one. Alan Steele as Fairy Mary is resplendent in enormous fake boobs and a variety of glittering pink outfits topped off with absurdly tiny fairy wings. Meanwhile Stephen Arden’s Raven La Corbie is wonderfully villainous, tall and imposing in sequined green and black, complete with corset and extravagant eye make-up that immediately says “sexy and evil.” Steele opens the show with a monologue that has something for both the children and the adults in the audience, and continues to make tongue-in-cheek comments throughout the evening (my particular favourite being the disconcertingly sexual “Would you like to pull an aspidistra oot me carpet bag?”)
The plot of this Sleeping Beauty has plenty of surprises for those expecting the classic Disney iteration. The focus is taken off the handsome prince as saviour, and placed instead on the importance of female friendship and family. Although I was a little disappointed not to get the classic woman-in-drag handsome prince, it was refreshing to see an old format reinvented to tell a story of the love between mother and daughter, sister and sister, friend and friend (and the prince love interest was replaced by Samuel Pashby as Hamish, a rugged Scotsman in a kilt, a more than adequate alternative.)
I would absolutely recommend this year’s Byre Christmas pantomime to anyone looking for some festive cheer in this miserable Scottish December. If you’re a student, I would just recommend bringing a few friends with you (and maybe having a drink or two first, especially if you’re not familiar with pantomime as a genre.) It’s much more fun with someone to share the ludicrousness of the whole thing with, and a perfect way to get a much-needed break from revision.