Wizard of Oz: Panto set to head down yellow brick road at the Alhambra Theatre

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Panto heads off down the yellow brick road at the Alhambra Theatre in Dunfermline this Christmas - and audiences are in for a treat.

The Wizard Of Oz opens on Thursday (December 7) for a three-week run which takes it through the festive season until December 28 with a packed programme of school shows, matinees and evening performances. Ticket details are here.

Rehearsals are almost over for the cast at the Ironmongers Studio just across the road from the main theatre where the tech crews are finishing sets and getting the stage ready. Behind the scenes is a hive of activity with routines being fine tuned, costumes altered, sets built and a yellow brick road laid on the stage.

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The shop brings back the cast of last year’s panto, Beauty And The Beast, with Ian ‘Sheepie’ Smith, plus Funbox duo Kevin McLeod, and Anya Scott-Rodgers joined by a supporting cast, and three dogs who will alternate for the role of Toto, and the man at the helm, director Kenny Christie, promises audiences a show that pulls out all the panto stops.

The stars of this year's panto, The Wizard Of OZ at the Alhambra Theatre (Pics: Submitted)The stars of this year's panto, The Wizard Of OZ at the Alhambra Theatre (Pics: Submitted)
The stars of this year's panto, The Wizard Of OZ at the Alhambra Theatre (Pics: Submitted)

“What is great is that everyone loves panto and everyone loves the Wizard of Oz so we are bringing together two brilliant shows which have great characters, a fantastic story and songs,” he said, “and this is the most exciting time when all the finishing touches are applied.”

This is Kenny’s third year at the helm, of the panto which continues the Alhambra’s commitment to supporting the great Scottish tradition. His own panto journey dates back to childhood dazed in the chorus line - and he wants that excitement and magic to captivate new audiences each night.

“Directing panto and getting it right is a huge responsibility,” he said. “You approach it knowing the audience will range in age from five years old to retired folk. So there is slapstick and physical comedy for kids, but also plenty for adults to enjoy as well. Something for everyone - that is key.

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“We have big energetic dance routines, great costumes, comedy, songs and amazing sets. The production values are huge. It is lovely to have a theatre that understands panto and its traditions and wants to invest in that locally. This is one of the big city pantos - it is show with a heart.”

Behind the scenes at rehearsals for The Wizard Of Oz (Pics: Cath Ruane)Behind the scenes at rehearsals for The Wizard Of Oz (Pics: Cath Ruane)
Behind the scenes at rehearsals for The Wizard Of Oz (Pics: Cath Ruane)

Opening night promises to be a special show for everyone involved with the panto, with those same energy levels required for every performance to ensure audiences leave thoroughly entertained.

“The show looks fantastic but it isn’t complete without an audience.” said Kenny. “That performance element is hugely important We know that for many people, their first experience of theatre is going to see a panto.”And once the curtain goes up, Ian can also join the audience to see the show himself.

“Every show is different - the audience makes the show,” he said. “I’ll come back a few times with family and friends to see it for myself. You look at the Alhambra with its beautiful frontage all lit up - there is nothing more satisfying than a packed house all roaring with laughter and children signing along. That buzz is special at Christmas.”

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The view from stage is just as exhilarating - and also demanding. Anya plays Auntie Em and Glinda the good witch, and she also gets to fly. “That’s a new thing for me - I’ve never done that before!”

Well used to performing for young audiences with Funbox, she is looking forward to an extended run at a venue where she has performed many times.

“The stage is huge! We run laps from front to back, but it is also an amazing stage. We have to tick all the boxes when it comes to the Wizard Of Oz - we have to tell a story everyone knows and loves - and also do the same for panto. It’s a fantastic show and it is the greatest fun. The kids in the audience are a huge part of every show - they are in Kansas with us.”

Getting them to sing along, boo and cheer is all part of every performance that generates the buzz from the stalls to the balcony - “there are no passive audiences in panto, they are involved from the very start” - and it’s a skill that Anya and her Funbox partner Kevin have honed, so much so he was shortlisted for best supporting role at last year’s national panto wards,

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“You want the buzz of the audience, you want them singing along and shouting back. It’s a busy schedule - you are physically tired by the end but it is great fun to do. The closer to Christmas, you can feel the energy of the kids. You are the ringmaster but the audience is such a huge part of the night.”

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