Pantomine in Scotland
As the panto season gets underway a new exhibition celebrating Scotland’s other national theatre embarks on a nationwide tour. Allan Radcliffe investigates
Pantomime is perhaps the most popular form of theatre in Scotland. Every year thousands of us turn out to see colourful archetypes telling familiar stories with liberal helpings of gallus local humour, magnificent costumes and a plentiful dose of singing and dancing. While Scotland is rich in pantos produced by professional companies, there are also numerous shows staged up and down the country by schools, amateur companies or community groups.
Currently, a group of academics from the University of Glasgow’s Department of Theatre, Film and Television are exploring and documenting this great popular art form. The Pantomime in Scotland project, which sets out to celebrate Scottish panto, its history and impact, has now inspired an exhibition, to be held in three theatres across the country over the next couple of months.
‘Pantomime is a great part of our cultural life,’ says Adrienne Scullion, the project’s principal investigator. ‘Its fantastic history, and the memories that people of all generations have of pantomime are worthy of recording as part of our national cultural history. One challenge is that theatre is ephemeral and so our project has included interviewing an older generation of Scottish theatregoers whose memories of a golden age of pantomime may otherwise be lost and we’ve talked with pantomime makers of all ages too. Some of those memories feature in the exhibition.’
As well as the free exhibition there’s a range of events linked to the project, including schools workshops at Motherwell, family activity days at the Macrobert and reminiscence events at Glasgow’s King’s. The wider programme also includes two film events at the GFT on Sun 6 and Tue 8 December, screening film footage of pantomimes in Glasgow and Edinburgh in the 1930s-1950s, with a new soundtrack taken from an original panto score and played by the Orchestra of Scottish Opera. ‘The music score was a real find,’ confirms Scullion.
Many of Scotland’s major theatres still fly the flag for traditional panto, notably the King’s in Glasgow, with its much-loved triumvirate of Gerard Kelly, Karen Dunbar and Andy Gray, and Edinburgh’s King’s, with Allan Stewart as the dame and Grant Stott the baddie. Yet, surely panto is in danger of losing audiences to ‘straight’ Christmas shows and touring musicals such as We Will Rock You?
‘Pantomime is special in that it still attracts a socially-diverse and multi-generational audience of families, school children and older generations too,’ says Scullion. ‘This means that it’s still growing a new audience each year. Pantomime is also the cornerstone of the community theatre sector. All over the country – and year after year – groups in schools, churches, clubs and workplaces enjoy writing, producing and acting in pantomimes. For these groups the social activity and the sense of community involved putting on a pantomime is an established tradition.’
And anyone can contribute to this fascinating project. Scullion and her colleagues are keen to encourage people to share their memories – either by filling in a postcard at the exhibition or by emailing www.glasgow.ac.uk/pantomime.
It couldn’t be simpler – oh no it couldn’t!
Pantomime in Scotland, Motherwell Theatre, Monday 23 Nov-Wed 2 Dec; King’s Theatre, Glasgow, Sat 5-Sat 19 Dec; Macrobert, Stirling, Mon 21 Dec-Thu 14 Jan.