Dec 062019

Duncan Harley reviews Cinderella at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

Comic Christmas capers in Aberdeen wouldn’t be quite the same without the annual HMT panto and this years rags to riches take on Cinderella stars soprano Rachel Flynn as Cinders with doors opening this month for a five-week run.

Naturally, wicked step-sisters are to the fore and the cast list for 2019 includes Call the Midwife star Laura Main who delivers a sterling performance as the Fairy Godmother, River City funny man Paul-James Corrigan who shines as Buttons, Two Doors Down Joy McAvoy plus River City Sally Howitt as the Stepsisters and Prince Charming is played by Emmerdale Paul Luebke.

Dancer/choreographer Louie Spence plays a delightfully camp Dandini with Alan McHugh leading the action as the outlandishly-costumed Baroness Heifer McHardup.

Outwitting step-sisters involves both humour and determination and there are plenty of laugh-out-loud slap-stick moments along the way alongside a multitude of double-entendres and slick comedy routines.

Lavish special effects and merciless lampoons litter the plot.

Sound and set are sublime and the Trump gets an obligatory bashing as does the city of Dundee. And there is a quite splendidly tongue-twisting comedy-Sushi routine which is to die for.

Last years disappointing dwarfs have thankfully been supplanted for 2019 by an ultra-slick troupe of tap-dancing pumpkins.

Astaire would be impressed. And there are pyrotechnics galore.

But it’s all in the best possible taste as the classic Dandini line ‘Now, this of course is where Prince Charming holds his balls and dances’ clearly illustrates.

Buzzing with energy from very beginning to royal wedding, Cinderella @ HMT sparkles. Go see.

Stars: 4.5/5

Directed and written by Alan McHugh, Cinderella plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Sunday 5 January 2020

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122

Words © Duncan Harley, Images © HMT and © Qdos Entertainment

Dec 172018

Duncan Harley reviews Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs @ His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen. 

The traditional folk tale of how the beautiful Snow White survived the evil queen’s murderous attention has been told in many versions over the centuries.

Countries across the globe from Albania to Malaya hold versions of the tale deeply rooted in popular culture.

In an Indian take on the story, the magic mirror is portrayed as a talking parrot and an Albanian version has Snow White’s jealous sisters portrayed as a murderous duo intent on her untimely demise.

The Brothers Grimm are often credited with having collected the definitive version of the story. Featuring seven unnamed dwarfs, a glass coffin and an insanely jealous stepmother they published several versions of the tale over the period 1812-1854.

In 1937 the tale was subjected to Disneyfication and, despite Disney having trademarked the name “Snow White” in 2013, the films and the literature continue to follow the snowy-white road.

Ever popular as a pantomime theme the likes of Dawn French, Wendi Peters and even Strictly Star Brendan Cole have played starring roles over the years.

As Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs comes to His Majesty’s for a five-week run, the incumbents of the leading roles are Lee Mead as Prince Harry, Jenna Innes as Snow White, Juliet Cadzow as the evil Queen Lucretia plus of course Jordan Young as Muddles and Alan McHugh as Nurse Nellie MacDuff. Yes, that’s right – Nurse Nellie MacDuff.

Both the Grimm Brothers and Walt would have been surprised at Nurse Nellie’s staring role but, it’s all in the best possible taste; well almost.

As Alan McHugh’s take on the traditional tale rattles on through endless costume changes – Nellie appears variously dressed as a billiard table, a Heinz Beans advert, a BBQ and wait for it, a fat lady in a tiny bikini; the wonder of panto is exposed to the theatre audience in more ways than one in this production

Inuendo, double entendre, acrobatics, pyrotechnics and fast paced comedy sketches flow thick and fast as the story of the princess who was far too pretty to live unfolds.

There are no glass coffins in this version of the tale and, if Alan McHugh’s take on the story is to be believed in its entirety, the magnificent seven are named as Snoozy, Fearty, Dafty, Gaffer, Cheery, Snotty and Dreichy.

As is usual in the HMT Panto various celeb’s get to take it on the chin.

Amongst this year’s targets are Donald Trump and Theresa May with the addition of a gag or two about the AWPR, Brexit and of course Holby City – erstwhile home of Lofty AKA Ben “Lofty” Chiltern.

As panto’s go this year’s APA offering certainly delivers a good few belly laughs.

The story bears at least a resemblance to the original tale and the delivery of the traditional fast-paced monologues is, as always, second to none. However, there is a certain flatness and lack of energy about the production.

Perhaps this will pick up during the coming weeks. Additionally, Prince Harry – although pitch perfect in dialogue – appeared to be singing ever so slightly under par.

All in all, though, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a cracking piece of entertainment and should appeal to folk of all ages.

Plus of course, this year some seventy-four towns and villages throughout the North-east, including both Inverurie and Fochabers but somewhat surprisingly not Maggieknockater, get a special mention amongst the gags.

Now that must be something of a record.

Stars: 3.5/5

Directed by Tony Cownie and written by Alan McHugh, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Sunday 6 January 2019

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Words © Duncan Harley, Images © HMT

Dec 032015

Duncan Harley reviews this year’s pantomime at HM Theatre, Aberdeen

Jordan Young (left), Elaine C Smith and Alan McHugh. Photo by Michal Wachucik-Abermedia

Jordan Young (left), Elaine C Smith and Alan McHugh. Photo by Michal Wachucik-Abermedia

Panto returned to the Aberdeen stage this week, with familiar faces Elaine C. Smith, Jordan Young and Alan McHugh firmly at the helm of the Jolly Roger, in this classic tale of the boy who never grew up.

The traditional story features a flying child, Peter Pan, who lives in Neverland and just likes to have fun.

Thrilling adventures unfold with the likes of pirates, Native Americans and of course a very alarmed crocodile. Faeries and Lost Boys feature, alongside tales of unrequited love and self sacrifice.

The flying child is in this case played by Scott Fletcher, who carries the role admirably, despite his obvious male attributes. Peter is frequently played by a woman.

The draft for the original 1904 J.M. Barrie play seemingly lacked both pirate ship and Captain Hook. Fortunately for theatre audiences, the author soon added both, and Peter Pan’s nemesis was born.

At Tuesday evening’s performance, and true to pantomime tradition, John Jack’s Captain Hook was resoundingly booed at points by an appreciative young audience, despite an engagingly villainous and faultless performance.

Written by Alan McHugh, who plays the colourfully boisterous Dame Maggie Celeste, this swashbuckling take on Peter Pan follows the traditional modern Pantomime route of audience engagement, plus several laughs a minute. Comedic duo, Dame Maggie and Jordan Young’s Smee work well together. Add Elaine C. Smith to the mix as the Magical Mermaid and the slapstick comedy takes off big-time!

New Pitsligo, Portlethen, Stewarty Milne and even Donald Trump take it on the chin as the often hilarious and sometimes raucous gags power on throughout this high energy production.

The 3D presentation in Act 2, although technically competent, seemed superfluous. It was more than made up for by the impressively scary Clockodile, however.

The team from Aberdeen Academy of Dance performed flawlessly, with both Aedan Dufton’s Michael Darling, and Logan Reid’s John Darling deserving special mention.

With costumes, set and special effects to die for, this is pantomime at its finest delivered by a creative team well-used to engaging with Aberdeen audiences.

Children of all ages are guaranteed a Jolly Roger of a time and the spectacle of an airborne Magical Mermaid has to be seen to be believed!

Directed by Nick Winston and Produced by Michael Harrison with Musical Direction by Captain Nemo – Peter Pan plays at HM Theatre Aberdeen until Sunday 3 January 2016.

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122

Words © Duncan Harley, Images © Michal Wachucik-Abermedia

Dec 052014

Elaine_C_Smith_and_Beast by Duncan HarleyDuncan Harley reviews Beauty and the Beast at HMT.

Aberdeen’s His Majesty’s Theatre has been staging pantomime for almost a century and the 2014 festive production of Beauty and the Beast looks likely to break all previous records as regards eye watering gags and entertainment value for children of all ages.

From the very start, the production engages all sections of the audience with a blistering series of innuendo laden laughs guaranteed to keep the grown-ups happy and the youngsters wondering.

In one of the funniest slapstick performances ever witnessed on an Aberdeen stage, Mrs Potty – played by Elaine C. Smith – wields her truncheon while fellow cast members variously demonstrate their prowess with feather dusters and frying pans.

The result is hilarious and the deadpan delivery complete with split second timing literally brings the house down.

Of course in true panto tradition, there are goodies and baddies. Mrs Potty, Dame Kitty Brewster – played by the production’s writer Alan McHugh – and of course the beautiful Belle, come into the first category. Anne Smith plays the evil witch Deadly Nightshade and Paul Leubke gives a versatile performance as the extremely unlovable alpha male Harris McTweed.

The Beast – Luke Newton – is of course a baddie destined to improve nicely as he slowly transforms into the handsome Prince Sebastian.

There are special effects galore including a quite extraordinary airborne Elaine C. Smith plus the unforgettable and incredibly scary Kraken of the Deep.

Highlights include a splendid rendering of the 1960’s Beach Boy’s hit “Surfing Cruden Bay” delivered by Dame Kitty and her wee son Boabby Brewster – played by Jordan Young. For my vote the deadpan mis-direction in the Wedding Scene and the moment when the orchestra commit the cardinal sin of opening their brolly’s indoors come a very close joint second.

Sound, set design and lighting are faultless and the costumes are to die for. With a superb musical score and entertaining choreography this is a truly magical pantomime experience.

Produced by Michael Harrison and directed by Sam Kane, Beauty and the Beast at HM Theatre Aberdeen will run and run until Sunday January 4th 2015.

Is there a happy ending ever after?

You’ll just have to go and see …

Tickets are available from Aberdeen Box Office on 01224 641122 and on line at

Words and pictures by Duncan Harley

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Oct 172014

Elaine C Smith and Beast 13By Duncan Harley

Pantomime season arrived early this week as one of Scotland’s most talented performers, Elaine C Smith, made an impromptu appearance at Aberdeen’s Bon Accord Centre.

In full costume and accompanied by Prince Sebastion, perhaps better known as the Beast, Elaine mingled with shoppers and posed for the cameras as a prelude to her star role as Mrs Potty in HM Theatre’s 2014 Christmas panto production of “Beauty and the Beast.”

This is Elaine’s sixth year starring in pantomime at His Majesty’s Theatre in Aberdeen.

“Some folk think that when you do panto it’s a sign that your stage career is over,” said Elaine “in reality it’s quite the opposite, this is Aberdeen’s very own panto not just a touring show … it’s a real pleasure to appear here.”

Now grandmother to new baby Stella, ‘Granny Smith’ has arrived to a warm welcome from the Granite City and she’ll not be leaving until the Beast is once again transformed into a handsome prince.

Produced by Michael Harrison, this years production has been written by Alan McHugh will don his frock for the 11th year running to delight audiences as Dame Kitty Brewster while Jordan Young will no doubt be up to some extreme mischief in his role as Boabby Brewster.

The Beast is played by Luke Newton while Anne Smith, of Madam JoJo’s West End Club fame, will play the Wicked Witch. Dundee born Maggie Lynne plays the role of the beautiful Belle and Paul Luebke, of Taggart fame, is cast as Harris McTweed.

Rehearsals begin soon and the theatre doors open on Saturday 29th November with performances up to and including Sunday January 4th.

Tickets are available from Aberdeen Box Office on 01224 641122 and on line at

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