The magic of the panto

The cast of 'Snow White' at the Byre Theatre, St Andrews
The cast of 'Snow White' at the Byre Theatre, St Andrews
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THERE is something magical, and timeless, about going to see a pantomime, says Allan Crow.

For many, the festive shows are their introduction to a whole new world of entertainment.

Billy Mack is in Sleeping Beauty at the Adam Smith Theatre

Billy Mack is in Sleeping Beauty at the Adam Smith Theatre

Lights, noise, spectacle, songs and laughter galore - and those memories never leave you.

Scots didn’t invent pantos - they have been performed worldwide since the 19th century - but, more than most, we guard their traditions and keep them safe from the creeping influence of Christmas variety shows.

And there is a difference.

One is a theatrical tradition handed down from generation to generation - it’s family friendly from start to finish no matter how many double entendres are packed into the script (unless it’s a Jim Davidson show, but let’s not spoil the allusion) - and the other is a TV show lifted from the studio to the stage and reliant on a star name to fill the seats.

'Hansel and Gretel'  played by Ben Fitzpatrick  and Karen Fishwick  in the Christmas show at Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline

'Hansel and Gretel' played by Ben Fitzpatrick and Karen Fishwick in the Christmas show at Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline

Both have their place, but for me the panto is still king. Always will be.

As a kid with a birthday in January, I went every single year to the show at the Kings in Edinburgh - in fact I cannot recall going anywhere else until I moved through to the west coast in my early 20s.

In the 1970s that meant getting to see legends such as Stanley Baxter, Jackie Milroy, Rickki Fulton from my seat in the circle, and then came the ‘newcomers’ such as Allan Stewart and occasionally, The Krankies.

The shows were lavish, magical and truly enchanting.

Jane McCarry and Emma Soraya Beard are in Cinderella at the Alhambra. Picture by David Wardle

Jane McCarry and Emma Soraya Beard are in Cinderella at the Alhambra. Picture by David Wardle

One year it was ‘Cinderella’, and the next ‘Jack and the Beanstalk.’ Then came ‘Aladdin’ or ‘Babes In The Wood’ and you never tired of watching them come round.

On a dark winter’s night the theatre’s lights shone brighter than any - and there was always a buzz as you found your seats and waited for the orchestra to start up.

Every year we tried and failed to book one of the royal boxes - these were as rare as a gold chocolate bar from Willy Wonka.

I can vaguely recall the actors chucking sweets into the crowd - a ‘pour oot’ which sadly, no longer happens - and the fidgeting which went on while the leading lady was serenaded with the latest ballad from the top ten before we got back to the slapstick, and the audience participation.

And that’s another key difference - pantos thrive on as much noise from the stalls as possible.

The very best villains could have crowds screaming blue murder, while we probably never fully appreciated the impeccable comic timing which went into the scenes of mirth and mayhem. We were too busy laughing.

The scripts are all tightly written and include jokes only the local audiences get - I once saw a panto in Aberdeen and was completely baffled at some of the gags which had everyone else in stitches! Maybe it was the Doric tongue!

Last year’s show at the Adam Smith Theatre added a line about the chaos caused by the new junction at Wemyssfield. It got the biggest of the night - every night.

And every single panto had - or should have - a giant songsheet which was lowered from the stage roof and joining in was mandatory!

The backdrop was always white or cream the lettering always black. It’s funny the details that stay lodged in your memory almost four decades on!

And then there was Stanley.

To generations of panto fans, Baxter is simply the greatest - no question.

Many great names have followed in his outlandish, money-no-object outfits - everyone from Grant Stott to the late great Gerard Kelly have kept the tradition alive, and, of course, closer to home Billy Mack is THE panto maestro at the Adam Smith - but I suspect even they would bow at the feet of the man who taught the world to speak ‘Parliamo Glasgow.’

There are many readers who will glance at ‘geezapurraburrafurramurra’ without even looking at the translation - ‘‘please give me a pound of butter for my mother.’’

Magical comedy which, like the panto, has stood the test of time.

Fife is blessed with some great pantos this year, and this week we give you the lowdown on who’s on stage and where.

Treat your kids - heck, treat yourself - to at least one!

After all it’s dark out there and the weather’s rank rotten.

Or as Stanley once said ‘‘scummindooninbuckets.’’

CHRISTMAS SHOWS IN FIFE

>> Sleeping Beauty

Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy

December 7 to January 12

THE much-loved story of a girl who spends 100 years waiting for true love’s first kiss is told in a way audiences have come to expect from the Adam Smith team. Written by Alan McHugh and directed by Jonathan Stone, there will be joy, music, comedy, dance, laughter and of course audience participation. Billy Mack returns as Dame Lou Lou.

>> Box Office: (01592) 583302 or www.onfife.com

>> Hansel & Gretel

Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline

November 30 to December 24

THE timeless fairytale is brought to life in this brand new musical version by director Jonathan Stone. Join the duo on their adventure deep into the heart of the enchanted forest. Will they rescue their friends and discover the true meaning of Christmas? Buttons and Cinderella are re-united from last year’s Adam Smith panto with Ben Fitzpatrick playing Hansel and Karen Fishwick as Gretel. Gayle Telfer Stevens also stars.

>> Box Office: (01383) 602302 or www.onfife.com

>> Cinderella

Alhambra Theatre, Dunfermline

December 18 to January 6

AN all star cast bring big city panto back to the Kingdom this year. Following on from the success of last year’s Aladdin, the Alhambra team bring the magical fairytale story of Cinders to their stage. Jane McCarry (Still Game) plays the fairy godmother to Emma Beard’s Cinderella. CBBC’s ‘Raven’, James McKenzie is Prince Charming. Colin McCredie (‘Taggart’, ‘Woolly and Tig’) also stars.

>> Box Office: (01383) 740384 or www.alhambradunfermline.com

>> Snow White

Byre Theatre, St Andrews

November 29 to Dec 30

FILLED with laughter, suspense and a host of colourful characters, the Byre panto returns with a fresh take on this classic story, with a few twists and turns, that’s guaranteed to keep audiences of all ages spellbound. Written and directed by Gordon Barry. Starring Stephanie McGregor, Tom Duncan, Alan Steele, Lynne Jenkinson, Gillian Ford and Luke McConnell.

>> Box Office: (01334) 475000 or www.byretheatre.com