What happens when the time comes to recast Edinburgh's iconic King's panto? - Liam Rudden

IT’S all kicking off in York’s pantoland right now where the Chief Executive of the Theatre Royal has announced he’s dropping the now legendary cast of the venue’s annual panto.

Friday, 24th January 2020, 3:44 pm
Old guard with the new, Allan Stewart, Gillian Parkhouse, Andy Gray and Jordan Young

It got me thinking. What will happen when it’s time for our own King’s panto regulars to move on. Who will replace them? Indeed, are they replaceable?

The York scenario has similarities with the Capital. There, the theatre had an innovative and record-breaking resident Dame in Berwick Kaler, who retired last year after 40 consecutive years leading his company of regular faces - Martin Barrass, Suzy Cooper, David Leonard and AJ Powell - as well as writing and co-directing the annual production. Those regulars returned this year in a production of Sleeping Beauty, minus Kaler, who nonetheless remained behind the scenes writing and co-directing the show.

Earlier this month, the regulars revealed they had been told they would not be asked back next year, causing an uproar amongst the theatre’s loyal panto fans. Of course, no actor is ever guaranteed a contract. It’s the nature of the job and, yes, new producers frequently come in with ‘fresh’ ideas in order to put their stamp on what is an important earner for all theatres.

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Yet, the uproar in York has heightened just how much audiences look upon their panto heroes as family.

It’s certainly the case in Edinburgh where for more than two decades Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott have fronted the Capital’s festive extravaganza. In much the same way that a trip to see Berwick and his merry band became a tradition for many York families, so the yearly outing to see Stewart and his side-kicks has for generations of Edinburgh families.

Never more has that love be demonstrated that during Goldilocks, which marked the return of the city’s favourite funnyman, Andy Gray, after a year out due to blood cancer. Panto performers fill a special place in our hearts.

The pantomime is often a highlight of the familial year, a time when grannys, granddads, mums and dads and children and grandchildren come together. A magical time, often the only time they’re all in the same room at the same time, hence the players become extended family.

So, how will King’s audiences react when the time comes for new faces at the Old Lady of Leven Street? Hopefully, there will be a gradual changing of the guard, already Gillian Parkhouse has proved a popular addition to the team over the last three years and Jordan Young more than made himself at home this year ahead of his return next year.

The beauty of the King’s is that over the last two decades, most of the regulars have indeed taken years out, always returning, and perhaps that highlights York’s mistake - to dismiss an entire much loved cast in one fell swoop was never going to end well.