This is me. The one in the middle with the crown and a scowl eating (not much has changed). This is the very first time I performed with Edinburgh People’s Theatre at the Churchill Theatre panto in 1985.

My Mum had been a member for years prior to me following in her footsteps – it was only natural that when they needed a baby that would behave on stage (for the most part) that it would be me.

Sadly, this is one Edinburgh People’s Theatre panto that I don’t remember, but there have been many more and hundreds of memories, some of which I thought I would share with you. Whether you are a performer, or an audience member, hopefully they let you see a bit of what Christmas at the Churchill is like.

The Costume Changes

An EPT panto is pretty fast paced, particularly when you are masquerading as a dancer and a small part principal. As a result, the time to change costumes is almost non-existent. Not that anyone minds. There is a fine art to removing one costume and replacing it with another in thirty seconds and that is down to the expert dressers at the side of the stage.

Everything is prepared previously. You practise getting in and out of clothing as quickly as you can until you have it nailed. The team of dressers at EPT are brilliant and have helped us avoid many costume catastrophes.

The Interaction

Now and again, you get an audience who want to get involved. Like really involved. I had a young gentleman who sang every word to Somewhere Over the Rainbow with me (beautifully). I had a kid (when onstage to do the song sheet) who stole the show by break dancing.

The best part is seeing the kids’ faces. They get so incredibly involved with the Wicked Witch or the Principal Girl scrubbing floors and singing to mice. It is absolutely lovely to see.

The “Lets Give Her A Solo”

I was 5 years old and I got my first solo. When I say solo, I got to run to the front of the stage and hand clap. With my Mum. For 3 seconds. It was Dick Whittington in 1990.

I was SO proud. Everyone at school and home heard about it. I had a main part in a panto and everyone needed to come and see me. That buzz got me addicted and I did everything I could to get another (proper) Panto part which I did ten years later.

Performing in panto is addictive. Being on that stage, however small your part, is bright and colourful and cheers up any gloomy day.

The “Not Meant to Happens”

Now and again, no matter how hard you try, things can go wrong. There have been a few instances of disaster during panto time – once the fire alarm went off and we were all evacuated in our costumes to Morningside Road. A more interesting visit for the Fire Brigade. There is also the panto lurgy; where at least five members of the cast will lose their voice. Or worse…

Before one evening of the 1995 show, my dad made me microwave macaroni cheese. I didn’t have a lot of time between school and leaving for panto so it seemed like a good idea. Off I bounced, into the theatre to see all my dancer pals. That year, we were performing The Doop (the best song ever!) and I had been given a special wee part to do.

I got all dressed up into my Lycra, ready to do my solo (again the world had been told). Just as we were making our way to the stage , I turned to our Minder, Vi, and projectile vomited all over the dressing room.

My mother was alerted (having just come off stage) and passed me a mop and bucket to clean up. I began to stutter that I didn’t have time because my big moment was coming up… which was given to someone else that night. I was never so heartbroken. But the show went on and by the finale I was back on that stage.

The Stamina

More often than not, there will be instances where the actors have a mind blank or need to improvise to get through a scene. The audience rarely notice because people are so familiar with their parts.

In 2013, we performed Cinderella and I made the mistake of taking no holidays and working all week whilst turning into Cinderella at night. It was a mistake. I should have taken some days off to cope with the tiredness but I persevered.

I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but on the final performance, I made up every word to Happy Working Song whilst still managing to ensure every word rhymed. It was only when a pal said “What was the words you were singing there?!” that I realised I barely remembered stepping on stage.

Panto is exhausting. But so, so worth it. I’m sure everyone has had their own panic minutes before they go on stage, but somehow it always turns out alright on the night.

Mandy Black as Dick Whittington in 1990

The Fun

The time of year is utterly magical and the cast and crew make sure they enjoy every moment of working together on panto. If there are two shows in one day, big groups of us descend on Morningside for the very best of food. It is so lovely to all sit together and eat; like a giant party. Then of course, there are the parties, the nights out, the post-panto get togethers. We know how to enjoy ourselves.

The Smell

There is no smell like panto at the Churchill. Hairspray, perfume, make up, smoke machines, costumes…. it is utterly magical and something I will never forget. The Churchill is a special place and perfect for Christmas time. As you step outside, even the crisp cool smell of Morningside, full of spices and coffee smells just like Christmas.

The Talent

There is no shortage of talent in Edinburgh Peoples’ Theatre pantos. Over the years, we have had some weel kent faces acting with us and some who became famous in their own right just for performing in panto. Bob Somerville was one such man; beloved by the children of Edinburgh. He performed every year as Buttons part and stole the show.

Bob Somerville in Dick Whittington in 1990

The Other World

Edinburgh People’s Theatre pantomimes transport you to another world; one full of magic and fun. You can leave your troubles at the door – whether performing onstage, helping backstage or watching the show.

This year, our panto is set to be bigger than ever. Find out more about Aladdin and how you can take part or buy tickets.

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