Kirkcaldy panto: ‘Ya Wee Beauty & Beastie’ rehearsals underway for sold out opening night
and live on Freeview channel 276
Ya Wee Beauty and the Beastie begins a six-week run at the Kings Theatre on the Esplanade on Thursday, December 7 until January 6, and reunites the same cast from the last two years.
Performances for schools have sold out, and a number of shows already have the ‘house full’ signs up, underlining the popularity of the smallest panto in Scotland - one written in, and about, Kirkcaldy. Some shows have sold out and there is limited availability for others – details at https://www.kingstheatrekirkcaldy.com/panto
The cast and backstage team behind the shows staged in 2021 and 2022 have reunited en masse. Billy Mack, the doyen of panto dames is back, this time as Dame Kitty McCrivens, along with Kirsty Strachan, Mark McDonnell, Sarah Brown Cooper, Robin Mackenzie, Graham ‘Skoti’ Scott and musical director, Stephen Roberts. What started out as a one-off panto to fill the gap created by the closure of the Adam Smith Theatre for a refurbishment has now found a whole new audience at the Kings where the entire building is used to stage performances, and everyone mucks in backstage.
“It’s incredible fun,” said director Jonathon Stone who has again written the script for this year’s panto. “This is made in Kirkcaldy, set in Kirkcaldy and about Kirkcaldy, and because it is in such a small venue it panto up close and personal. In 30 years of directing pantos, I have never experienced such a reaction to a show - we had such a positive response. With a full house there is a real buzz. It is fantastic.”
The fact the cast of five has remained unchanged for a third season also makes it stand apart from all other touring shows - and allows rehearsals to move quickly from the opening read through.
“We don’t need to feel our way through the first days - people know what is expected,” said Jonathon. “There is a shorthand amongst us.”
And neither will you find any ages in the room - “we’re all par of the same company” said Mark. “It feels a like bit being in rep, everyone in the building is part of the show.”
The only limitation on the team is the size of the stage, but that is worked around by using the entire room with cast members entering through every door, and also springing rebound the building, inside and outside, to get to their next scene. The early readings give them all a chance to see how the show is taking shape.
“We’re up to page 17 and already ma a few changes- that’s just day one!” said Mark.
For Billy, the show’s tempo comes alive as rehearsals get underway: “There are rhythms get set - the same as a dance routine or song. Sometimes words get in the way and need cut, other times you need more. Having the writer in the room makes a huge difference to the process. They can make it better there and then.”
The Kings’ pantos have always had a strong Lang Toun feel - and this year that has been strengthened even further. The High Street has bene turned into one of several cloth backdrops, while Beveridge and Ravenscraig Park are brought into a narrative with lots of ultra local jokes and scenes. Even the cat, voiced by Graham, is a Kirkcaldy cat - meet the Mer-cat! “A cat so famous they named a shopping centre after it” the cast joked.
As well as his feline role, Graham, is also building all the sets, which are based around a theme of a semi-ruined castle, to transform the stage. Everything has to be measured down to millimetre to fit the exacting dimensions of the stage.
The finished result will transform the theatre - and transfix audiences. Last year, without exception, they left full of praise for the show and, for many, it was their first experience of live theatre. For youngsters it is not as daunting as sitting in a huge theatre - so much so, in one scene last season, when Billy was left out of a group hug, one wee boy climbed up on stage and gave him a cuddle. Having to run round the outside of the building in full costume also sparked more than few double takes from passers-by
For Jonathon the magic of panto is simple: “If we can make them laugh and cry we have done our jobs. There really is no other theatre quite like this., We have comedy, dance, we have a love story and we have songs - last year’s song about Kirkcaldy was moving and special. It’s going to be even better this year.”