Pantomime season revamp for Aladdin in Musselburgh

Julie Heatherill, Derek McGhie and Colin Carr
Julie Heatherill, Derek McGhie and Colin Carr
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A Middle Eastern folk tale becomes a East Lothian one in Liam Rudden’s adaptation of Aladdin, where Princess Jasmine becomes Thistle Blossom (“the bonniest lass in Musselburgh”), Widow Twankey runs a steamie with the help of her other son, Wishee Washee, and Musselburgh is actually an annex of ancient Peking.

Colin Carr, the show’s Dame, explains of the show’s geographic sophistry, “It’s not an off-the-shelf panto, it’s a panto that has been tailored for this theatre and for this area, so there’s going to be lots that people can relate to.

“They will recognise names and places in the show, and there are little references and jokes that the audience will really get because it is a panto for this theatre and for this area.”

And that’s before noting that Widow Twankey, that oldest and most venerated of panto institutions, has been given a decidedly contemporary first name, Tulisa.

“It’s something that the kids would like and it makes her a little bit feistier, you know?” adds Carr. “She’s a mum but she’s still down with the kids. She’s bossy, she’s a minx, she doesn’t take orders. She’s there, dishing it out.”

Of Widow Twankey, the now self-styled “female boss”, Carr says, “She’s a very, very devoted mum, but she’s a very bossy mum. She doesn’t suffer fools gladly and she’s got her two boys, but Aladdin’s her favourite.

“He’s her wee golden boy and he can do no wrong.

“Then there’s Wishee, God love him. He tries his best but he can never seem to get on the good side of her. He’s always rubbing her up the wrong way, or saying the wrong thing, or doing the wrong thing. She loves him but she knows he’s never getting married.

“He tries so hard, he’s always so keen, but he can never quite seem to get it right for her.”

The Prestonpans actor has endured few such problems of late, and has been treading the boards with some rather familiar names in the last few years.

In Southport Carr appeared with former Coronation Street and Loose Women panellist Sherrie Hewson in Cinderella. That was in 2008 and he was one of the Ugly Sisters.

He says, “Sherrie played my wicked mother – well, she wasn’t wicked to me because she liked me, and she was great.

“She was just fabulously ditzy, and very funny and very glamorous, and you never quite knew what you were going to get with her.”

Carr also appeared in a production of Cinderella in Grimsby the previous year alongside someone who, despite a relatively meagre career in theatre (Hewson was, after all, an Olivier Award winner at the age of 15), might have represented an even bigger boon for Carr, H from Steps.

“I was a very big Steps fan, so when I met him I knew all the routines and everything, and I told him that when Steps split up we actually had a Steps memorial toilet in my house,” he says. “They split up on Boxing Day, so we made that into the Steps memorial toilet.”

Describing the memorial, Carr adds, “We had pictures and we had the Steps dolls lined up on the cistern as a tribute.”

Long before Ian “H” Watkins et al strode into the Top 40, Carr’s true passion had always been for performing – “It was always what I wanted to do, and I was always quite an obnoxious little show off as a child, and any opportunity to go on a table doing impressions or singing or just doing anything I could to entertain” – and there’s one experience in particular that proved pivotal.

At the age of “five or six”, his mother and grandmother took him to see Dick Whittington at the Brunton Theatre. Much like the bold and irrepressible actor that we find today, the young Carr, far from being in thrall of the stage, was naturally drawn toward it.

“I remember, we were sitting in the aisle seat, and at one point I got up and started to walk down the steps to the stage, and my gran grabbed me and said, ‘Don’t go down there, you’ll end up on the stage!’ It’s quite good that, many years later, I finally have ended up on that stage.”

Carr’s return to the Brunton Theatre, then, is something of a homecoming for an actor whose formative experience of theatre took place at the very venue that he nearly graced as a child.

“It’s very exciting because it’s the first time in ages I’ve actually been anywhere near home performing,” he says.

“Usually, I’ve toured quite a lot with different stage companies through most of England and through Ireland, so it’s great to get to do something near home, where I can actually stay with my mum and get home-cooked food, and a lot of old friends and people I know can come and see the show.”

Aladdin, Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, various times, until January 7, £10.75–£13 (Family ticket £47–£56), 0131-665 2240