Cinderella

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

Until December 31

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The Arabian Nights

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

Until January 6

Reviewed by Mark Brown

WITH this Cinderella (as told by the superb Scottish writer Stuart Paterson), Dominic Hill (director of Glasgow's Citizens Theatre) achieves a near perfect balance between quality family theatre and festive fun. A beautiful, stylish, brilliantly performed staging of the centuries-old folk tale, the production succeeds in eliciting the participation of its audience as and when required.

Designer Gabriella Slade sets the tone for the show by framing the stage with a gorgeous, thematic construction inspired by the workings of a clock. The splendidly-costumed cast is led by a Cinderella (the excellent Sinead Sharkey), who, far from her winsome, pantomime caricature, is strong of mind and independent of spirit.

Indeed, Hill's production boasts a genuinely exceptional cast. In Peter Collins (the hilarious and big-hearted master chef Sergeant Puff), Irene Allan (the loathsome stepmother Claudia) and Malcolm Shields (who plays both Cinders's misguided father and the delightfully doddery King) the show has truly top-rate actors.

A classy and thoughtful retelling of the story, the production is also very funny. Allan's Claudia (who is like a female Iago from Kilmacolm) and her hilariously garish daughters Claudette and Claudine (Caroline Deyga and Hannah Howie) take us into panto territory at just the right moments (oh yes they do!).

Regular Citz composer Nikola Kodjabashia has created a smart and varied musical score which has a lovely and surprising jazz thread running through it. Lighting designer Lizzie Powell's shifting tones provide the piece with just the right amount of gothic atmosphere.

Were I to divulge playwright Paterson's unconventional denouement I would deserve to be turned into a pumpkin at midnight. Suffice it to say that, given the choice between Callum (a courageous fellow prisoner in the kitchen, played with tremendous attitude by Jatinder Singh Randhawa) and the amusingly sparkle-toothed and self-regarding Prince (Nicholas Ralph), Cinders proves herself to be no Meghan Markle.

If the Clydeside theatre achieves a neat balance between high-end children's theatre and panto antics, Edinburgh's rep, the Lyceum, goes out on something of a limb, programming The Arabian Nights as its Christmas show. Based upon the famous Middle Eastern tales of The One Thousand And One Nights, director Joe Douglas's production is a thing of beauty.

The play is set, by turns, in a Baghdad street market, the palace of the authoritarian Sultan and, courtesy of some clever logistics, the locations of a selection of the tales told by the beautiful, young storyteller Scheherazade. This version of the overarching narrative (which, like an impossibly abundant Russian doll, contains stories within stories) has been shorn of its sinister exterior.

Here, thanks to writer Suhayla El-Bushra, Scheherazade is not the latest virgin facing execution by a Sultan who is a genocidal misogynist. Rather, she is telling her stories in order to charm the Sultan into releasing her mother (a fellow storyteller) who is rotting in his prison.

Rehanna MacDonald is wonderfully engaging as Scheherazade, while Nicholas Karimi's Sultan (who goes to bed with his favourite teddy) turns out to be more fun than fearful. The supporting cast, who burst into life as each new tale is told, are superb. It is a particular delight to enjoy the skills of actor, physical theatre performer and puppeteer Tim Licata (one of Scotland's finest total theatre artists).

Unlike the Citizens show, the Lyceum production's attempts at panto-style, participatory theatre are unexpected and random. Consequently, they fall somewhat flat.

That said, the toilet humour of the Arab tales (which is remarkably similar to the lavatorial aspect of British comedy) lends itself to a flatulent dog (represented by an impressively mangey puppet) whose regular eruptions proved a crowd-pleaser on opening night.