Why Edinburgh's Gary Tank Commander is wowing them in Glasgow - Liam Rudden
PANTO is not just for Christmas. Oh, no it’s not. In fact, back in the day, there were some that ran well into the new year, the seasonal finale being replaced by an Easter Bonnet Parade or the like.
At Edinburgh’s own Empire, now the Festival Theatre, it wasn’t unknown for a touring panto to take up residence in February having played the festive season elsewhere.
Until the late-80s and early-90s it also wasn’t unusual for the stars to change every year. Some of the big names to appear at The King’s have included Stanley Baxter, Ronnie Corbett, Anita Harris, Rikki Fulton, Canon and Ball and Terry Scott of Terry and June fame.
Of course, The King’s wasn’t the Capital’s only panto, decades ago audiences had a choice, The Palladium and Theatre Royal both proved as popular as the Leven Street offering.
These days many pantos, 35 this year, are produced by Qdos Pantomimes, The King’s is one of them. Big budget affairs, they bring regular performers back to venues each year.
In Edinburgh, that’s Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott. Stott may be the only local on stage - always a dependable villain - but the other two have been adopted by the city theatre-goers.
There’s long been a claim that west coast and east coast humour don’t travel, the ‘couthy banter’ of the west clashing with the more ‘refined wit’ of the east. Personally, it’s a belief I’ve never subscribed to, were that the case Baxter, Fulton, Johnny Beattie and the like would never have been able to hold court here in the way they did when the old Howard & Wyndham circuit saw pantos play Edinburgh one year, Glasgow the next and Sunderland the third.
Proving that to be true right now is Edinburgh’s Greg McHugh, better known as Gary Tank Commander. The former St Thomas of Aquins alumni is currently starring in Snow White at Glasgow’s SEC (until 31 December), where he’s wowing audiences. I caught the show as part of my annual panto tour. A five star affair it induced tears of laughter, had magical effects and top turns, notably from the brilliantly barry Garreh, the deliciously evil Doon MacKichan as a glamorous baddy, and a delightful Leah Macrae as Nanny Mammy McWee. A gallus panto romp for all the family. Blame it on the Garreh!
There’s another Edinburgh name in the title role of Cinderella at Aberdeen’s His Majesty’s (until 5 January), where Rachel Flynn is fast become the leading lady of Scottish panto principal girls. Gorgeous, feisty and fun, she’s on top form along side Alan McHugh’s belter of a Dame and Paul-James Corrigan’s cheeky, perfectly-pitched Buttons.
Another Edinburgh-born panto star, Euan McIver, can currently be found playing a fabulous Widow Wonky in Aladdin at Berwick-upon-Tweed’s beautiful bijou theatre The Maltings (until 30 December).
And so my 2019/20 panto tour continues into the new year (see, not just for Christmas), which reminds me, Happy New Year to one and all.