Panto season is about to begin in Edinburgh once more, but Jack and the Beanstalk at the King’s Theatre is our firm favourite. Rehearsals have started and I was lucky enough to speak to director and lead members of the cast over dinner at Gusto in George Street.
With a spring in their step, the foursome walk into the restaurant and greet one another like they haven’t seen each other for months: but in reality it’s only been a couple of hours. There’s no hiding the firm friendship between Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott as they bounce off each other all evening, with director Paul Elliot chipping in with memories and one-liners that had everyone in stitches.
I had intended to ask a series of set questions, but that plan soon went out the window as they started recalling stories from previous pantos, the overgrown boys trying to show each other up with outrageous tales of what really goes on behind the scenes.
This year sees Paul produce the panto for the 9th time and he is extremely happy with the script which he has been working on since April. Nothing is repeated in panto land, with all ideas fresh and current. It’s certainly going to be interesting to see a 40 foot beanstalk and a 30 foot giant grace the stage.
Holding my hands over my ears, I try not to listen when they talk about specific scenes they are rehearsing – I want everything to be a surprise when I go and watch it. It’s been a firm fixture in our family for years and despite my 30 something years, I wouldn’t miss it for the world – it’s not just for children, adults can enjoy a trip to the panto too.
Allan Stewart who is playing Dame Trot, looks at least 15 years younger than his age of 60 and puts it down to his healthy lifestyle. He tells me: “It’s hard work performing for 7 weeks with very little time off, so I’ve been walking everywhere and watching what I eat to build up my stamina.”
It was the first time I had met Stewart in person and was strange to see him out of a frock and not speaking like a woman. His skin is the envy of women across the land and he lets me into the secret that as well as good genes he’s using Keihl’s Face Fuel.
Allan tells me that he was as gobsmacked as anyone when Susan Boyle turned up at a performance at last year’s pantomime and joined him on stage as he impersonated her. I asked him if there was a chance that this year’s ‘target’ could turn up and he winked at me and said “it’s rumoured that she’s a local now, so who knows?”
Andy Gray is delighted to be back in Edinburgh as King Crumble and I’m shot down in flames by the others when I said it would be excellent this year, now that the trio are back together again (insinuating it wasn’t excellent before). I quickly justify myself, but my cards are marked. Andy does no special training prior to rehearsals apart from a ‘vitamin regime’ but he adds, “I just give up my galaxy caramels and the routine of the panto keeps the weight off anyway.”
He’s genuinely delighted to have returned to work with his friends. “It’s like I’ve never been away” he tells me as Allan and Grant look on and express how happy they are he’s back. When asking all of them what they do on their few days off during the panto run, spending time with family is the answer. Andy and Allan live in Edinburgh for the duration with director Paul returning to London to keep his eye on his many other theatre projects. “When the directors away………” they all laugh, nudging each other to say that everything goes to plan in his absence. I’m not convinced with this trio and their power to ad lib. Paul continues to eat his food and keeps quiet, he knows after 9 years of working with them what they are truly like.
Although Grant Stott lives in Edinburgh with his family he almost has us reaching for the violins when he tells us he doesn’t get a single day off apart from Christmas Day and New Year’s day. “Aaaaawwwwww” we all tell him, but as Edinburgh people know, he’s got his daily Radio Forth show to do as well as his many charity events he helps out with. Sporting a dodgy-looking Movember moustache, the ardent Hibee says, “there won’t be a Hearts strip on my body ever again in panto, I’ve still got the rash from last time” he jests. “But there’s certainly a few references to that part of town this year, shall we say”.
Taking on the role of Fleshcreep the baddie, I ask him if he’s booed when spotted in the flesh. “Yes, I am and it took me a while to work out a few years back that it was because of the panto”. He recalls a booing incident at a charity event and says “it must’ve been because I play the baddie” as Allan nudges me and says “that’s the story he’s going with”.
There’s no doubting that trio are firm friends and bounce ideas off each other to produce the best pantomime they can under the watchful eye of their director. “We’re so lucky to have a job to wake up to in the morning that we genuinely love” Allan states, as Andy says “yes, yes” and goes off on a tangent quoting his own catch phrase “I’m no very well”.
I certainly knew it wasn’t going to be a straightforward interview as they jostled to see what notes I made when they went slightly ‘off the wrong direction’ shall we say. It was a pleasure to meet Paul, the talented director of this venue’s Pantomime and tell him how much Edinburgh people love his work. I inform him that the mini-Spotlight members quote from the panto all year round and he smiles and acknowledges that he loves his job too.
The King’s Theatre pantomime is not to be missed in the Edinburgh calendar and is guaranteed to leave the theatre beaming after sharing in an extravaganza that has delighted audiences for years.
Break a leg boys!
You can buy tickets for the pantomime through the King’s Theatre box office. Jack and the Beanstalk runs from Saturday 4 December 2010 to Sunday 23 January 2011. Start your vocal warm ups of ‘he’s behind you’ and be prepared to hold your sides with laughter no matter what your age is.
Thank you to the staff of Gusto, George Street for hosting us all and supplying the excellent food and service.