Jamie and the Unicorn online

December 20, 2021 | By More

★★★★☆   Streaming good fun

Online: Sun 13 Dec – Sun 9 Jan 2022
Review by Thom Dibdin

The brand new pantomime Jamie and the Unicorn at the Gaiety Theatre in Ayr hits all the big pantomime tropes – and hits them bang on – with a live performance that makes a smooth transfer to online viewing.

The Gaiety took the sensible Covid precaution of running its pantomime straight through, without an interval. Then, when schools cancelled panto trips it made them a film of the show – and it this which is now generally available for a very affordable £9.

Kristopher Bosch, Chris Forbes, Kirsty Findlay, Gavin Jon Wright and Kara Swinney in Jamie and the Unicorn at Ayr Gaiety.

The show, live in the theatre, is a brilliant example of what a company can do with a bundle of invention, some creatives who really know their stuff – and the local area – and a cast who are both happy to be on stage and have the requisite pantomime chops in the singing, dancing and comedy departments.

The show is a completely new plot from director Ken Alexander with co-writer Fraser Boyle and composer David Higham, in which Kirsty Findlay’s naive young Jamie McGuffie has seen a unicorn in the Woods of Alloway.

If her mum, Chris Forbes’ Dame Jinty McGuffie, is pleased at the sudden fecundity of the pigs on their farm, Jamie isn’t at all happy at the shade cast on her by local folk who don’t believe her.

the forces of good and evil

Cue a big fight between the forces of good and evil, in the form of Kirsty Malone’s good fairy Ana Maw and Ali Cleland’s hugely scary wicked spell weaver Gowdie Banadook, who both understand the significance of the sighting all too well.

If Jamie can find the Unicorn with Ana Maw, the fairy can use her ancient magic to ward off the evil witch – but if Gowdie Banadook gets her claws on the unicorn horn first, through her dastardly plans, she will be able to bring eternal winter to Ayrshire and the whole of Scotland.

Chris Forbes in Jamie and the Unicorn at Ayr Gaiety.

Strong pantomimes need a great comic turn from the Daft Laddie character and Gavin Jon Wright is particularly easy to watch as Daft Duncan McGuffie. Beside bringing a bundle of energy to the role, he saves a wee piglet Snorty Breeks – the runt of the litter – which sits on his arm for much of the show, squealing at the baddies.

The big question is whether the great live show translates into the kind of film you can watch on the telly at home of an evening when your own panto trip has been cancelled due to the Covid.

Happy to say that, after a family viewing in our sitting room, it certainly does. Indeed, some elements work just a little bit better.

slapstick messy scene

Chris Forbes, who some might know for his spoof persona as Duncan Murray – Andy’s “other brother who can’t play tennis”, is more prominent in the Dame role on film. The slapstick messy scene, when Jinty and Duncan are making a bannock, works particularly well for the younger audience members.

Most importantly, while there isn’s a hint of CGI or anything particularly technical, the magic scenes with the unicorn are all shot from the perfect position in the theatre to allow Wayne Dowdeswell’s lighting to work with Nigel Hook’s design and Alisa Kalyanova’s costumes and make the illusion work perfectly.

Ali Cleland in Jamie and the Unicorn at Ayr Gaiety.

The interactive elements work reasonably well. Ali Cleland has enough presence as Gowdie Banadook to ensure that her very well earned live boos (evil enough to drive the smallest audience members into their parents’ arms) translate to film – thanks to cut-aways to reaction shots of the audience from film makers Anthony M. D’arcy and Sean Milligan of AMD Studios.

The slightly excessive use of musical numbers to drive the plot forward – Forbes even jokes “I felt like I was in a musical!” at one point – is rather more obvious on film. Although the daft number based on the type of tune and word play used at the Gaiety for many years is a lot easier to appreciate.

embedded in the local area

That level of being embedded in the local area, which goes from the setting in Ayr to the very local vernacular language, is a possible problem for those watching from different parts of the country. But there is nothing too problematic and it might be a local panto, but it isn’t just for local people.

All in all, if you have to cancel a panto trip this year then, for the price of interval ice-creams, Jamie and the Unicorn is not just a great alternative, but a hugely enjoyable piece in its own right.

Running time: One hour and 25 minutes
Available on demand until Sunday 9 January 2022.
Cost is £9.
Book here: https://www.stream.theatre

Gavin Jon Wright in Jamie and the Unicorn at Ayr Gaiety.

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