100 Weeks of Scotland: Pantomime dames

UNDOUBTEDLY one of Scotland’s great popular art forms, the pantomime is as alive and kicking as it has always been.
Scotland's panto dames are the subject of this week's images. Picture: Alan McCredieScotland's panto dames are the subject of this week's images. Picture: Alan McCredie
Scotland's panto dames are the subject of this week's images. Picture: Alan McCredie

Week Sixty

There is a rich heritage of pantomime in Scotland, and there are many professional productions taking place across the country, not to mention the countless smaller pantomimes that take place in community centres and church halls.

Stanley Baxter, himself one of the greats of the artform, says ‘pantomime is the national theatre of Scotland’.

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The early to mid-twentieth century was dominated by names, all household at the time, such as George Willis, Bert Denver, Harry Gordon, Will Fyffe, Alec Finlay and of course Sir Harry Lauder (it was in fact in ‘Red Riding Hood’ at The Theatre Royal in Glasgow, in 1910, that he first sang one of his most famous songs, ‘Roamin in the Gloamin’)

This tradition was carried on into the late twentieth century by well-loved stars such as Jimmy Logan, Chic Murray, and Rikki Fulton. Growing up in Perth I always looked forward to panto time as it always meant Christmas was just around the corner (I still can’t come to terms with the idea of panto after Christmas) and the staples of the Perth Panto for many years were the late Walter Carr and Martyn James.

Big business

Although there are less professional pantomimes now than there once were, it is still big business and an incredibly important source of revenue for theatres. Its great strength is its ability to remain absolutely traditional and yet evolve year by year, and is to some extent a cultural mirror of the year gone by. It manages to be local also, with jokes tailored to whatever town or city the show is happening in.

And of course, no pantomime can be truly complete without The Dame. The overblown, ridiculously be-wigged, invariably man-hungry, good-natured dragon of the show.

It was this desire to photograph the Scottish Pantomime Dame that led me to the Brunton Theatre in Musselburgh, at 9.30am on a freezing December morning (Sleeping Beauty), to The Adam Smith Theatre in Kirkcaldy on a wet and windy evening (The Little Mermaid), the Dunfermline Alhambra on a grey Saturday afternoon (Jack and the Beanstalk), and the Edinburgh and Glasgow Kings Theatres, for two sunny afternoon matinees (Peter Pan in Edinburgh and Aladdin in Glasgow)

Curtain up

The actors themselves, Robert Read, Billy Mack, Gayle Telfor Stevens, Allan Stewart and Gordon Cooper were all photographed just before curtain up and much thanks to them all for allowing me to poke my camera at them in a state of undress. They are the latest incarnations of an amazing theatrical and cultural tradition.

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What is even more amazing is that I have managed to write this piece without once succumbing to pantomime humour.

(oh no I haven’t…)

• Alan McCredie began the ‘100 weeks of Scotland’ website in October last year, and it will conclude in Autumn 2014. McCredie’s goal is to chronicle two years of Scottish life in the run-up to the independence referendum.

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Alan says ‘one hundred weeks...’ is intended to show all sides of the country over the next two years. On the site, he says: “Whatever the result of the vote Scotland will be a different country afterward. These images will show a snapshot of the country in the run up to the referendum.

“The photos will be of all aspects of Scottish culture - politics, art, social issues, sport and anything else that catches the eye.”

Follow the project at 100weeksofscotland.com. You can also follow Alan on Twitter.

All pictures (c) Alan McCredie/ 100 weeks of Scotland