FOR a spectacle that boasts a cast of hundreds of children - each performing a host of contemporary pop songs, topical comedy sketches and dance routines - few variety shows are as steeped in history as The Gang Show.
A year shy of its 80th anniversary, the show’s director Andy Johnston is more aware of its lineage than most, having been involved in the show himself as a youngster.
“When I was a Cub in 1979, my best mate was a guy called Davie Grant and his big brother was in the Gang Show, so we went to see it,” he explains. “He was shuffling about in the background and I thought, ‘I could do that’, and the following year there I was, shuffling about in the background.”
The Gang Show’s inception in 1932 as a showcase for Scouts and Guides began in London, and though Johnston says the Edinburgh show is a more contemporary affair, the basic premise remains intact.
“The format itself has not really changed a lot. There’s still musical numbers, there’s still comedy sketches - that’s the format established by Ralph Reader in 1932.
“Ralph passed away in 1982, so the never-ending well of material you used to get from him started to dry up. What we’ve done is kept the format, but within the format everything is more up-to-date and more modern than people might expect.”
Directing his ninth show this year, Johnston expands further on his ideas to keep the Gang Show fresh.
“In the last decade, we’ve become more topical,” he says. “I write a lot of the material myself, almost all the comedy stuff is my own.
“You can take some ridiculous concept that’s topical, for instance one we’ve got at the moment is what would happen if Alex Salmond met Bonnie Prince Charlie?, you know, stuff like that - or ‘how annoyed would the other animals at the zoo be when the pandas arrive?’
“It’s taking something that’s happening within Edinburgh and exaggerating it to ludicrous effect.”
Johnston adds that the music has a similarly contemporary feel, though aspects of it are rooted in more classical theatre.
“The other side of it is trying to keep up with what’s happening in other musicals, other shows, trying to reflect what’s happening in music,” he says.
“We’ve got everything from Biffy Clyro and Kaiser Chiefs to stuff from We Will Rock You and Les Mis - a full gamut of what it’s possible to do.”
Johnston laughs off the suggestion that looking after so many kids might be hard work (and, by doing so, more or less confirms it) but emphasises that the pay-off of a successful show is all the more rewarding for it.
“They start off not really knowing what they’re doing. It’s a blank page every year because it’s a completely new show, and by the time you get to the show they are as one.
“What you notice is that they actually end up with a little camaraderie and the friendships made are friendships that’ll hopefully last forever.”
Edinburgh Gang Show 2011, King’s Theatre, Leven Street, Tuesday to Saturday, 26 November, 7pm, £9–£15, 0131-529 6000