Liam Rudden rediscovers his inner child on a day trip to the panto factory
Around me, as far as the eye can see, is the best part of a century of pantomime history.
In the distance, a large orange pumpkin begs to be transformed into Cinderella’s carriage. To the right, the prow of a pirate ship, once seen in the King’s production of Robinson Crusoe, juts from between two golden pillars, its semi-clad mermaid figure-head adding a touch of glamour.
Panto supremo Paul Elliott – director and co-writer of this year’s King’s panto, Mother Goose – is my host for the day, and keen to reveal the year-round work that goes into bringing a Qdos panto to the Capital.
In this massive warehouse just outside Hull, we are dwarfed by more than 50 spectacular panto sets. From illuminated staircases to fairy towers, every panto whim is catered for here.
Some 24 of these pantos have been sign-posted with posters revealing their destinations. These will used around the country this December, one poster sports the instantly recognisable images of Andy Gray, Allan Stewart and Grant Stott. Hardly surprising, Mother Goose will be the twelfth Christmas extravaganza Qdos have supplied the King’s.
Ensuring everything looks its best is the responsibility of a small team of dedicated carpenters, electricians and scenic painters.
Right now (it’s still October) they’re working on Edinburgh’s Mother Goose. A backdrop (cloth) hangs in the distance, transforming the warehouse wall into a baronial hall. It’s one of more than 3000 cloths stored here, depicting everything from enchanted forests to cloud-land.
Elsewhere, a bright red exploding clown’s car is being tested. Paul is persuaded to sit in it. As he does, he realises a panel will need to be cut away to allow Allan Stewart, who will be wearing his dame’s dress, to climb on board. That point noted, he takes his seat just as a plume of green smoke issues from the radiator.
Simultaneously, a flash goes off - the bang is so loud everybody jumps and the car’s doors fall off... although this is meant to happen.
Following a brief discussion about the strength of the pyrotechnic used to create the blast (general consensus is a smaller charge may be required), our attention is drawn to a large yellow slide, which is how I find myself perched precariously at the top of the giant prop for a photo. Thankfully the slide hasn’t been waxed and instead of shooting down the steep incline I only manage to slip an inch or so before grinding to a halt.
On the night, of course, it will be plates that tumble floor-wards - Andy Gray as Elvis McSporran doing his best to catch them, and no doubt failing spectacularly.
An hour later we are in Scarborough.
Now, if the Qdos store was a panto factory, this is panto HQ, but venture behind the sensible looking offices at the front of the building and another Aladdin’s cave awaits to be unlocked.
This is where Qdos keep their costumes, and there are hundreds of thousands of them, all bagged and tagged - there’s even a section of costumes made for the late Danny La Rue. One day these too could be seen on the King’s stage, but not this year.
Mother Goose is a completely new pantomime, reveals Paul, who has chosen all the costumes, cloths and sets himself.
So when you settle back in your seat at the Leven Street theatre this year, ready once more to cheer on Allan Stewart’s dame; laugh at Andy Gray as he reveals he’s ‘no very weel’; and boo Grant Stott’s baddie, bear a thought for all the people behind the scenes who have worked every bit as hard to ensure that this Mother Goose is another action-packed panto.
Oh yes it is!
Mother Goose, King’s Theatre, Leven Street, Saturday-20 January, various times, £10-£26.50, 0131-529 6000