Written by Fraser Boyle & Ken Alexander
Directed by Ken Alexander
In Panto land, the realm of fairytale collides with vaudeville storytelling and glee – often taking shape as a classic Grimm tale or nursery rhyme. But where creative liberty is free, magic follows, and as part of The Gaiety’s return to in-person performance, and digital streaming, Ken Alexander and Fraser Boyle look closer to home for inspiration. Jamie & The Unicorn: A Legend of a Panto!, with a distinctly West Coast flair, The Gaiety’s Festive treat is a braw festive treat, an original classic which maintains all we love about the traditional show but breaths some new life into the story.
Jamie McGuffie, along with her Daft brother Duncan and mother, shares a humble pig farm, and while it may not be the castles of legend, but it’s a charming and comforting home nonetheless. One with the land and the surrounding nature, Jamie is gifted with the rare sighting of a Unicorn, tying the two together – and while many don’t believe in the fated encounter with the beast, her family stands by her, but the curious arrival of Prince Hal of Tarbolton (Andrew Keay) seems to bring unexpected turns in Jamie’s life.
Alexander and Boyle refute resorting to frequent pop-cultural references and gags, instead of pushing for a traditional Pantomime vibe with a local focus on the area and Scotland. Alexander’s new script follows the punches of a Panto but succeeds in pushing for a creative dynamic and something fresh – particularly as the fabled Unicorn makes its fleeting appearances, or as the standing stones of the Scottish landscape take a central place. It surrounds the production in archaic energy, something visceral and mysterious amidst the slapstick and humour.
And Jamie & The Unicorn’s humour is relatively safe in the hands of kids, not pushing as many cheap gags as other productions. Where the slight moments of blue humour appear, you’ll likely find the cheesy grin of Dame Jinty McGuffie, Chris Forbes turning in their part as a staggeringly youthful and (dare we say) attractive Panto dame. Maybe it’s just the pinafore…
But no Panto would be complete without a vile and villainous creature, and who could possibly be worse than Gowdie Banadook, the witch of the forest, dedicated to slaying the Unicorn for her nefarious deeds. Playful, spiteful, and with a deliciously twisted tongue, Ali Cleland is the perfect foil for Kirsty Findlay’s resolute and kind-hearted Jamie McGuffie. But the real comic gem comes from Snorky Breeks and Gavin Jon Wright, the runt of the litter and Daft Duncan. Charming, comical and fine use of puppetry, the simplicity of the pair makes for an effective and engaging presence.
Any familiar with Findlay’s musical performances within the Panto scene before, or with the tremendous brilliance of Finn Anderson’s Islander, will undoubtedly appreciate the musical nature of Jamie & The Unicorn. David Higham’s score maintains a solid pace for the one-act show, though perhaps appears a touch too frequently, with uplifting numbers with enough vim & vigour to uplift the viewers at home. Remarkably, Alexander’s direction with Anthony M.D’arcy and Sean Milligan’s cinematography emulates the atmosphere, aided by the audience participation and occasional close-up shots to give viewers at home an up-close shot of the action.
For less than the cost of a round at the Theatre bar, Jamie & The Unicorn is precisely the way to spend these final moments leading up to the big day – with a heart brimming with jovial energy and delightfully bright pops of colour thanks to Nigel Hook’s design work, The Gaiety may draw the curtain once more to protect audiences and performers but the magic lives on with this delightfully enjoyable trip to ancient Scotland.
Jamie & The Unicorn runs at The Gaiety Theatre, and a streaming version of the show is available until January 9th. Both can be booked here.