IT’S all change at the Capital’s most spectacular panto this year - Oh yes it is!. But never fear, all the old favourites are present and correct too. Andy Gray, Grant Stott and resident Dame Allan Stewart, are still there.
The changes are behind the scenes, as Qdos panto producer Michael Harrison steps in to share the writing credits with Stewart, while Ed Curtis takes over as director.
Curtis recently directed I Dreamed A Dream: The Susan Boyle Musical, in which funnyman Gray co-starred.
Looking ahead to his 14th King’s panto, Gray promises, “I’ve worked with Ed before, so it’s just a joy to have him on board. We’ve got a good story, a great cast and are just having a grand old time.
“Having a new production team has given all us a new lease of life and freshened up the show completely.
“You respond to having different pairs of eyes on what you do and the new script is tight. It gives us lots to do together, which is great, and keeps us on our toes.”
The subject of this year’s King’s panto is Peter Pan, albeit unlike any telling of JM Barrie’s you have seen before. Captain Hook is on the prowl with his henchman Smee... and Mrs Smee. Cue crocodiles, Lost Boys, pirates and fairies and, of course, the boy who never grew up.
“Because of the JM Barrie Foundation, you have to tell the story of Peter Pan; coming into the nursery, then flying off to Neverland with the kids, Peter refusing to grow up, Hook wanting to kill him as vengeance for losing his arm...
“That’s all there. We haven’t thrown anything out, but in this version, the Darlings live in Edinburgh’s New Town - Mr Darling is a banker, with all that entails.
“Allan and I are Mr and Mrs Smee - May and Hector - and we work for the Darlings. When the they get taken away to Neverland, we too find fairy dust and are also transported to Neverland, where we get kidnapped by the pirates and are forced to work for Captain Hook.
Excited about his new challenge, Harrison, says, “The King’s has enjoyed a long and proud association with pantomime and I’m delighted to be executive producer for the first time.
“The King’s panto has had a huge influence on my career as a producer. The first Edinburgh panto I saw was Aladdin, with Gerard Kelly and Allan Stewart, after which I went on to direct my first Scottish pantomime.”
Harrison still remembers the song the Dame sang in that production. Even though Stewart has no recollection of it, Harrison still takes great delight in singing it to him.
“It ended with Allan singing, ‘I’ll lift up my skirt – Oh what a big surprise’, laughs Harrison.
This year’s panto also brings back memories of the late, great Gerard Kelly for Gray.
The pair, who were good friends and starred in the sitcom City Lights together, last teamed up on a King’s panto in 2001 when, once again, the Old Lady of Leven Street presented Peter Pan as her seasonal treat. “
“I was Hook and he was Smee,” recalls the actor. “This year, I’m playing the part he played in that show - that’s a bit weird. So there will be a thought of Kelly.
“Thankfully, his photograph is outside the dressing room so I always give him a wee wink as I go past on my way to the stage.”
With a smile he remembers, “When we were here on the last Peter Pan, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? had just started on the TV. Gerard had a crude version of the game on his laptop and we used to play that between scenes. The number of times we had to run on, nearly late, because we were so caught up going for the million . . .”
Harrison adds, “Kelly once said to me, ‘Pantomime is a celebration of local culture,’ and that is probably more applicable at the King’s than it is anywhere else.
“Grant is an Edinburgh boy, Andy although he lives in Perth has spent a long time living in Edinburgh, and Allan’s comedy is all about what is topical, whether it’s about the trams, Parliament or the pandas in the Zoo.”
Confirming his own love of the Capital, Gray reflects, “Edinburgh audiences are fantastic. They give me a welcome, and it’s a warm welcome, every time I come here, whether for panto or anything else.
“But doing the King’s... well, it’s just a beautiful theatre. The crew are brilliant, they’ve been doing for years as well.”
He laughs, “We come in and go, ‘When was it we did such and such?’
‘Oh, my god! It was 12 years ago!’
So, now, I just feel at home here.”
One of the longest running pantos in the country, Peter Pan closes on 19 January, and Gray reveals how he gets himself through the mammoth run.
“My secret is a good breakfast and vitamins - Guarana boost and Berocca boost - and... prosecco. And that’s it,” he grins, before teasing, “Oh, and we have something in this panto which is just extraordinary... but I can’t tell you about it as it would just spoil it. But there won’t be a dry seat in the house.”
Peter Pan, King’s Theatre, Leven Street, tomorrow-19 January, various times, £10-£29, 0131-529 6000