As the King's prepares to close for redevelopment in 2022, this is where Edinburgh audiences will be watching panto next year
History will be made in more ways than one at the King's this Christmas when Sleeping Beauty bursts onto the stage of the Old Lady of Leven Street. Not only will it be the first panto since the loss of stalwart Andy Gray, it will also be the last to be staged in the theatre as we know it.
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Sitting in the office of Fiona Gibson, Chief Executive of Capital Theatres, the trust that operates the King's, Festival and Studio theatres, our conversation turns to the annual festive spectacular, which this year will be the last to be staged at the venue until 2024, when the long-planned redevelopment of the venue reaches completion.
So what happens in the interim? Will there still be a panto, a major part of any theatre's income?
“Today is the first day of rehearsals for the pantomime and it's the last one at the King's before we do the redevelopment, so, Sleeping Beauty is also a very appropriate title,” Fiona reveals.
Legendary panto dame, Allan Stewart, will lead a number of familiar favourites along with some new faces in this year's production.
River City star and Edinburgh' s favourite baddie, Grant Stott, is back as Carabosse, Scot Squad and River City star Jordan Young returns as Muddles and Clare Gray, daughter of Andy, keeps the family's legacy alive as Narcissa.
Joining them are newbies, Leith-based Nicola Meehan as the Fairy Godmother and Sia Duada in the title role.
One change audiences will notice this year is the lack of a kid's chorus on stage. It's a UK-wide precaution being taken by most large scale venues, as Fiona explains, “That's a mitigation for Covid entirely, we hope to bring them back next year when we come to the Festival Theatre.”
And talking of the Festival Theatre, the CEO continues, “This year's panto will be our traditional pantomime with some very special moments in relation to remembering Andy, who was such a pivotal part of our pantomime.
“We open on November 27, the normal seven week run, and it will be joyous, everyone will have a wonderful time.
“Next year, the panto will move to the Festival Theatre and for that, it will be a slightly shorter run because we have a larger capacity auditorium and we have to work with Scottish Ballet, who have also been incredible helping us fit the weeks together.
“So in 2022, Scottish Ballet will open their festive season slightly earlier with the same length of run that they always have while the panto will start slightly later, and run for two weeks less.”
With a much larger stage to fill at the Festival Theatre, talks are already underway to ensure that the first pantomime at the Nicolson Street venue in generations - the theatre last hosted pantos in its days as The Empire - is bigger and better than ever.
“We are in discussion to make sure that is absolutely the case, we need to fill the stage,” says Fiona, refusing to be drawn on the title of next year's show.
“We do know what it's going to be, but you're going to have to wait and see...” she says.
And despite being gently pushed on the question, Fiona is giving nothing away... ‘Oh no she isn't!’
“Wait and see...” she repeats, with a knowing smile.
My money is on Cinderella being the title. In a recent interview, cast members noted that some of the big titles haven't been staged at the King's for a while, Cinderella hasn't been produced since 2017 and, as the most popular and magical panto of them all, it would appear a shoe in, although, that said, Aladdin was last produced in 2014. So, take your pick.
While the pantomime is produced for Capital Theatre's by Crossroads Pantomimes, the Trust itself is also now producing its own smaller scale Christmas shows for the Festival Theatre's Studio space as well as other, larger works for its other two venues.
“We have an ambition to do a little bit of producing now,” Fiona explains, “Obviously we have announced James IV, which we will do at the Festival Theatre in October 2022, that's our first big piece production, we will also be producing a musical for the final show before we shut the King's, that will be in July 2022.
“We will be announcing it shortly. It will be very exciting and will speak to the people of Edinburgh. That will be a wonderful way for us to close the King's, although the EIF will be the last thing there in August.”
She continues, “We have also commissioned, along with Eden Court in Inverness and Aberdeen Performing Arts, three Christmas early years children's shows, the first of which will be The Enormous Turnip in The Studio this year, and then we have two others that will be rotating between Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness.
“It's very important to have a little of that receiving/production house hybrid model for two reasons; it gives you control over your own destiny around things you are creating and, secondly, it gives you an artistic voice, audience development is so important and if you're not part of that and helping to produce, it is hard to make sure that you give audiences what they really want.”
Sleeping Beauty runs at the King’s Theatre, Leven Street, from November 27, 2021, until January 16, 2022, tickets are available here