Beauty and the Beast at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Panto used to be a child’s introduction to the theatre. Spark their imaginations well enough and you’ve got them for life.

So it was with me. I was only three or four-year-old when my parents took me to the long-gone Her Majesty’s Theatre in Carlisle and I was taken backstage to meet film star Phyllis Calvert who was, surprisingly, playing principal boy. I don’t know why I was given that privilege but that excitement has never left me. I’ve loved performances and performers ever since.

But reviewing countless pantos over the years has sometimes left me feeling a little jaded and, although the reputation of Scottish pantos had already filtered down to me into England, after a diet of celebrity casts for so many years, was a traditional panto going to be enough?

Absolutely! Nothing prepared me for this spectacular production, directed by Ed Curtis! At this moment I really can’t think of a better one. With Allan Stewart and Grant Stott at the helm, as they have been for 25 years, no wonder the King’s is the best-selling panto in Scotland and one of the three most popular in the UK. It was a privilege to be in the audience and see these two very funny men perform.

Walking off the cold, wet street and into the theatre really was like entering a magical world. Thanks to lighting designer Matt Clutterham, the auditorium was bathed in lovely warm pink 'bubbles' and the atmosphere was equally as glowing. A theatre has never felt so welcoming.

And that was even before the fun began!

Apparently, Beauty and the Beast hasn’t been performed at the King’s for over 70 years, but this production is bang up-to-date with appropriately tweaked songs from The Greatest Showman and the Flash, Bank, Wallop song from Half a Sixpence now declaring ‘What a selfie…!’

The King’s pantomime comes from the Qdos Entertainment stable, the world’s biggest pantomime producer, and it shows. No expense is spared. One of the special effects is even better than the helicopter in the London production of Miss Saigon!

But while Qdos’s 31 other pantos, including at the London Palladium, feature such star names as Dawn French, Robert Lindsay, Shane Ritchie and Brian Conley, to a Sassenach like me, King’s regulars Allan Stewart and Grant Stott didn’t mean that much – until now!

Stewart, as the lovable, cheeky old wifie (sorry, dame. He’s so convincing and has lovely legs!) Mrs Potty, and Stott (broadcaster and Captain Freeman in the TV series Outlander), as the hard man, Flash Boaby, are an absolute joy, bouncing off each other with consummate skill and camaraderie, dishing out Stewart’s jokes (he co-wrote the script with Qdos’s MD Michael Harrison!) with perfect (although not always word perfect, but then that made it all the more enjoyable) timing. Just the two of them would have been enough to entertain us, but there was the added bonus of a sterling cast including Jacqueline Hughes as The Enchantress (who has a spellbinding voice), Daniel Cullen as the lovable geeky Dougal, and star of stage and screen Gillian Parkhouse who, as Belle, performs a very impressive tongue twister in a scene which, in the hands of any other performers, might be deemed too long but here just grew in momentum. While Chris Cowley looked every inch the part as The Beast.

As Belle says to The Beast, 'true beauty lies within'. In this production it’s on the outside too, and if this is your children’s first experience of the theatre they can’t fail to be hooked – like me all those years ago!

Beauty and the Beast is at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh until Jan 20
Box Office: 0131 529 6000
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