Far from being a relic of the past, pantomimes are alive, kicking and taking on new blood, argues Mark Fisher
Earlier this year, I took a trip to Scarborough to check out the headquarters of the Qdos Entertainment empire. This is the organisation responsible for 21 pantomimes in the UK alone, not to mention a handful of theatres, a couple of talent agencies, 500 staff and a turnover of £50m.
Head along a corridor from the reception and you come to a gob-smackingly huge wardrobe. In this hangar-like space is a year-round operation involving the storage and maintenance of 15,000 costumes. It’s a treasure trove of multi-coloured Aladdin tunics and outrageous wigs. It takes another warehouse, the size of a supermarket, to store the sets.
While the company spends £10,000 a week on buying and repairing sets and costumes, Qdos is only one part of the pantomime market. In Scotland, it is responsible for just two: the show at the Edinburgh King’s (this year, Aladdin with old favourite Allan Stewart) and the one at His Majesty’s Aberdeen (Peter Pan with Alan Fletcher from Neighbours).
Last season’s six-week run of Goldilocks and the Three Bears in Edinburgh attracted 84,000 theatregoers, a remarkable feat given the competition from rival shows at the Playhouse, Festival Theatre, Royal Lyceum and smaller venues. When you take in Scotland as a whole, the figures are formidable.
At what other time of year would it be possible to see three versions of a show and for the coincidence to pass almost without comment? Yet, The Wizard of Oz – or some version of it – is being staged at the Pavilion and Citizens’ in Glasgow and Motherwell Theatre. Doubtless all will do great box office.
And although the days of music hall, which produced a generation of panto stars, have long gone, there is firm evidence of young blood rejuvenating the form regardless. If there was anyone who considered Karen Dunbar as just some face off the telly, they would have had their preconceptions shattered by her dazzling panto debut in last year’s Sleeping Beauty at the Glasgow King’s. Her turn as Nanny Begood gave her co-star, the hitherto unassailable Gerard Kelly, a run for his money, so perfectly attuned was she to the feel-good spirit of the show. The prospect of her return in Cinderella (pictured, above) along with Kelly and the tremendous Andy Gray, previously a stalwart of the Edinburgh King’s, is scintillating.
Neither is such young blood the prerogative of the big city pantos. I didn’t see Cinderella at Stirling’s MacRobert Arts Centre last year, but everyone said author and ugly sister Johnny McKnight was exceptional. The man more normally found behind the wheel of Glasgow’s Random Accomplice is not only back in Stirling this year with Mother Goose, but his Cinderella is being given a second production at the Byre, St Andrews. He’s certainly one to watch.
All of which is evidence that the panto and Christmas show is in resilient shape, able to embrace new influences while remaining hugely popular, not to mention commercially lucrative. The only question now is who’ll come up with the best Barack Obama gag and will it be as funny as the credit crunch quips?
A Family Pantomime
Your festive treat from The Byre Theatre and Bard in the Botanics
Written and Directed by Gordon Barr
This year’s Byre and Bard in the Botanics panto promises to be a total SLEEPING BEAUTY from the team who brought laughs and songs aplenty with the wonderful Beauty and the…
Islesburgh Drama Group present this family panto about a boy, some beans and a magical green stalk. Written by Leonard Caddy, directed by Jennie Aitkinson. Tickets will be on sale in the Garrison Theatre on Sat 22/11 from 10.30am - 12.30pm, and from 2.30pm - 4.30pm. For group bookings, please see the Shetland Times, no…
Family panto telling the tale of Dorothy's journey along the Yellow Brick Road. The cast includes Dean Park as Leo the Lion, Liam Dolan as Tinny the Tin Man, Nicola Park as the Good Fairy Glinda and Joyce Falconer as the Wicked Witch.
A traditional family pantomime with all the requisite thigh-slapping fun from the award-winning Stewarton Drama Group. Tickets available from Stewarton Library or by emailing email@example.com.
Poor Ella is in trouble. She dreams of dancing at the Royal Ball where the handsome Prince is looking to find his one true love. But her days and nights are taken up looking after her ugly sisters FiFi and FouFou, and their infamous Dame Academy. As the evil Madame DeMon attempts to rule over the pantosphere, Ella's time…
Pantomime version of the classic tale with a few extra comedy characters for Christmas - Reg the cowardly reindeer, and even a certain Mr Claus. Boo, hiss and cheer your way through this wintery wonderland, brought to you by Carnegie Hall and Alyson Orr. Suitable for ages 3+.
The tale of the boy who never grew up is given a Scottish flavour, in keeping with the nationality of its creator, JM Barrie, who was born 150 years ago. With flying children, thrilling sword fights, fire-eaters, acrobatics, dastardly pirates and the ominous ticking of the crocodile, this production promises excitement…
The Arches continue their festive tradition of adapting classic children's stories for very young children. This year, Hans Christian Andersen's frosty monarch is brought to life with puppetry, live performance and music, Al Seed directs.
This year Babes in the Wood gets the Oran Mor treatment. Oh, yes it does! You can't do a panto in a lunchtime hour! Oh, yes they can! Dave Anderson and David MacLennan have been co-writing shows together since they set up Wildcat. Thirty years on and over 50 shows under their belts, 'Babes in the Wood' is their latest…
A delightful Christmas treat for ages 3–7 and their families from kids' theatre expert Andy Manley (co-creator of White). Two storytellers make use of a little house and a big dollop of imagination to introduce the tale of Rudolf, the reindeer who just doesn't fit in.
Portree Community Pantomime Group brings you an updated version of the story of a girl with hair as black as ebony and skin as white as snow - plus evil witch Morgiana, Fairy Goodheart, Prince Lorenzo and bumbling pair Muddles and Herman.
Downfield Musical Dundee present their annual panto complete with the slapstick custard pie routines; current songs; corny jokes; special effects; spectacular costumes and the audience participation that the society are renowned for.