It’s just day one of rehearsals, but already James Mackenzie’s head is full of stage directions, one-liners and song lyrics.
The children’s TV star is appearing as Prince Charming in the Dunfermline Alhambra’s production of Cinderella, in what promises to be a knock-out run as big city panto returns to Fife.
And although he’s revelling in the role, featuring alongside a host of top panto talent including Still Game’s Jane McCarry, River City’s Colin McRedie, and Chicago’s Donna Hazelton, Mackenzie admits he’ll miss the boos, having played baddies Abanazar in Aladdin and Fleshcreep in Jack and the Beanstalk in the last couple of years.
“The panto baddie is always an excellent part. You get to play with the audience and it’s always great fun getting booed. But it’s nice to get a taste of the opposite end of the spectrum – sure, the baddies get some of the best lines, but this year I get the girl instead!”
And while he’d love to have a shot at playing some more baddies again in future, there’s one panto role we’re unlikely to see Mackenzie chasing any time soon – that of the dame.
“There’s a lot of pressure that comes with that role,” he admits. “In a few years’ time I’d like to have a go at being one of the ugly sisters, where you’re part of a double act, but going alone as the dame is a very specialised skill and you need lots of experience – I’m not sure that’s quite in my repertoire yet.”
Despite his modesty, Mackenzie is fast becoming something of a stalwart on the panto scene.
It’s not the star’s first Cinderella either, having previously appeared in the show as Dandini at His Majesty’s in Aberdeen a few years ago. So does it feel like going over familiar ground, albeit this time as the handsome prince?
“If nothing else, it’s a promotion,” he laughs. “But that’s the great thing about pantomime – every production is different. This is very much Liam’s [Rudden, writer and director] version of Cinderella. There are obvious similarities between them of course, but new jokes and new music make for a whole new show each year. I’ve already had a sneak peek at the costumes and sets and they’re incredibly glamorous.
“We’ve also got a few tricks up our sleeves, but I can’t say more than that – I’m sworn to secrecy. Although I can reveal that there’s a happy ending!”
The period after panto season finishes is traditionally a quiet time for actors and Mackenzie reveals he doesn’t have any firm plans for early 2013 as yet.
“That’s part of the intrigue of the job though,” he says philosophically. “You don’t know what parts are waiting round the corner.
“I can’t complain as I’ve had a busy couple of years. I’ve just finished touring with the Incredible Adventures Of See Thru Sam, I had Noel Coward’s Private Lives at Oran Mor earlier in the year, and prior to that I was in the UK tour of Sunshine On Leith.”
Of course, before all that, Mackenzie made his name in the hit CBBC adventure gameshow Raven, starring in thirteen series and earning a couple of BAFTAs along the way.
“I would have been happy enough to do the show till the end of my days, says the award-winning actor, who played the titular hero and guide, pictured. “It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.”
“People say ‘never work with children or animals’ and in Raven I did both and loved it. The best thing was working with the kids and seeing them gaining confidence. And they’re so honest at that age. If I ever made a mess of a line, they’d be quick to let me know I’d got it wrong.”
That experience undoubtedly stands him in good stead for Cinderella, tasked as he is with entertaining a host of raucous kids – and their parents – twice daily.
“The level of audience interaction is very different than if it were say, Macbeth, but that’s what makes it so interesting,” says Mackenzie. “There’s that element of never quite knowing what’s going to happen because you can’t predict what the crowd are going to throw at you.”
And it’s not just the punters that could be putting him off – Mackenzie’s more than aware he’ll have to watch out for his co-stars getting in on the act too.
“Somebody might fluff a line or burst out laughing, but in panto that’s allowed. You have licence to mess around and have fun, and I think there’ll be plenty teasing each other onstage too – it’s only fair!”
Cinderella, The Alhambra, Canmore Street, Dunfermline, 18 December – 6 January, various times, £17.50-£19.50 (£14.50-£15), 08444-99 99 90
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