A dame fine panto star: Billy Mack on his 10 years on the Adam Smith stage

Billy in his role as Dame Coral Reef in 2013. Pic by Dave Wardle.
Billy in his role as Dame Coral Reef in 2013. Pic by Dave Wardle.

It’s been 10 years since Billy Mack first graced the Adam Smith Theatre stage dressed as a woman for the pantomime, and he returns this month for more fun as the dame.

This year he takes on the title role in Mother Goose, but over the years he’s donned many costumes to play the ladies in the annual festive panto.

Jack and the Beanstalk from 2008

Jack and the Beanstalk from 2008

Since the beginning of his relationship with the Bennochy Road theatre, Billy has starred in Babes in the Wood, Jack and the Beanstalk (twice), Sleeping Beauty, Aladdin, Cinderella, Pinocchio, The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.

So what is it about panto, and Kirkcaldy, that keeps bringing the actor back to play the dame each year?

“It’s my favourite time of year for work and the sheer enjoyment of doing what I do,” he explained.

“I get a good buzz from being back in Kirkcaldy. There’s a really smashing audience here.

When I walk down the street no one knows me without my make up, wigs and fake boobs, which is quite nice.

“We seem to click and understand each other - I think it’s because I’m pretty down to earth.

“I had a proper job, I worked on the rigs and in the fishing industry before I became an actor, so I’m pretty grounded and I think the audience understand where I came from.

“It’s a trust thing. I know what it’s like to go through tough times and I think that’s reflected in the audience and what we get from each other. It’s the anecdotes and in-jokes that make us click.”

Before coming to Kirkcaldy, Billy had never played the pantomime dame.

The actor, who has appeared in a number of television shows, including Still Game, Rab C. Nesbitt, Monarch of the Glen and Taggart, continued: “I had done Aladdin before and played the baddie, but I’d never been the dame.

“Babes in the Wood was my first time, and it was pretty scary, but I loved it.

“My favourite panto was the very first one. It was the first time I played the dame and it was quite successful.

“Although they have all been different and most enjoyable and fun.

Bill as Widdow Twankey in Alladin in 2010

Bill as Widdow Twankey in Alladin in 2010

“I was a wee bit scared if the audience would take to me and then they did take to me they were with me and we sailed along together. It was pure joy for me and a laugh.

“The funny thing about working here is I was born three doors down on Abercrombie Street from Jimmy Logan and now here I am playing the same stage and the same panto dame as he did.

“Alan McHugh took over from Jimmy and I took over from Alan.”

So for Billy, what’s the best thing about being in panto?

“It’s seeing people have a good time and see them enjoying themselves,” he said.

“When I walk down the street no one knows me without my make up, wigs and fake boobs, which is quite nice. “It means you can hear what’s being said about the show, which is good, but also you hear the other side of things too.

Billy Mack and the young cast last year

Billy Mack and the young cast last year

“I like the whole ethos behind it and the asides and ad libs make it more pleasurable to me than a Christmas show. It’s great fun to do.”

Pantomime has long been a family Christmas tradition in Scotland, but what is it that makes it so popular?

Billy said: “I think a lot of kids are taken when at school and some times that’s the first time they’ve been in the theatre.

“A good panto is a fun way of getting people to come along to the theatre.

“When mums and dads take the kids, one can go Christmas shopping and there’s quite a lot of adult humour in panto, so it’s not just for the kids, and it’s all kept on a level where everyone understands.

“It’s part of Christmas for everyone is the panto.”

Over the years there must have been some memorable moments from the pantomimes, are there any that stand out?

“There’s hundreds,” he laughs.

“These are the anecdotes we’ll be talking about while rehearsing.

“One time in Babes in the Wood the actor playing Robin had to make a quick change and run round the back of the theatre and up through a trap door.

“We put cellophane over the door so he couldn’t get through.

“Another time we had a magician’s box with knives sticking out of it that fell to pieces on the stage.”

For audiences some of Billy’s most memorable moments on the stage no doubt relate to the many costumes that he wears each year – the more outrageous the better.

Speaking about his costumes, which he has many changes each night, Billy said: “Every year Lynn Buys, our costume designer, has another surprise for me. I was once in a fat suit and a bikini!”

It’s clear from speaking to Billy that as long as Kirkcaldy will have him at Christmas, then he’ll be here.

He added: “I could go and work elsewhere each year, but I love to come back to Kirkcaldy.

“Once you’ve established a relationship with it (being a panto dame), it’s hard to let it go.”

n Mother Goose runs at Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy from Monday, December 7 to Sunday, January 3.