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With two shows a day, six days a week, dressing rooms become a second home to the cast of the Edinburgh King's panto, Sleeping Beauty, so where better to catch up with the six stars of this year's extravaganza… on the phone, of course.
Allan Stewart - Queen May
It's been a case of starting his 2021 panto season the way his 2020 season ended for Allan, who first appeared as Dame at the King's in 1997.
Last year, a fall as he descended steps on the set of the Milton Keynes’ panto during a tech rehearsal left him bloody and bruised, this year, it was an encounter with a 'big bin' that left him in agony.
The sprightly 71-year-old explains, “Just before we opened I went down to the bins in the flat where I'm staying, dropped the rubbish in and at the same time dropped my glove in. I thought, ‘I can't lose another glove’ - I'm always losing gloves - so I climbed on something, climbed into the great big wheelie bin and slipped and cracked or bruised a rib.
“So I was struggling for a few days, on painkillers every four hours, wearing heat pads, we even took out one of the more spectacular but physical effects [no spoilers] until I was on the mend. But I just couldn't believe it, accident after accident but hopefully that will be my only one of the panto season and we're all back to normal now.”
For a man who is a panto legend it comes as a surprise to learn Allan finally achieved a life-long ambition in this year's show.
“There’a box I ticked this year which was something I'd thought about all my life and never imagined would happen – doing the opening song.”
And a very special song it is too.
“It’s a song my son, David, wrote and had a massive global hit with, called Dynamite. He wrote and produced it for BTS along with his writing partner Jessica and it has had one billion streams, which is just incredible,” says the proud dad, who introduced David to Edinburgh audiences when he brought him onstage as a baby in the 1989 King’s panto, Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood.
Grant Stott - Carabosse
He might be a soap star now, appearing in River City as Sam Spiller, but basking in the audience's boos is where Grant remains most at home, however, with the continuing drama added to his Radio Scotland commitments, panto season makes for a busy time for the 54-year-old.
“It's this mad juggling thing I have to do every year with the radio and panto,” he says, “pre-recording the Afternoon Show in the mornings to get here for the matinee and it's the same for the Vinyl Show on a Friday. So Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays are particularly hectic full on days, but it's just the way it is.”
Since the last King's panto Grant has become a familiar face in Shieldinch, "Ah um a big serious actor person now,” he laughs, before reflecting, “The difference between the first block of filming I did for River City and the second is huge just because my confidence has grown.”
Playing a panto baddie, however, is something Grant is more than comfortable doing. Once again he’s swapping sex this year to play the wicked Carabosse. The last time he cross-dressed for a role, Hibernia in Cinderella in 2017, he found himself nominated for the Best Female Baddie Award in the Great British Panto Awards.
“I was particularly proud of that although Elaine Paige beat me to it,” he says. “To be honest when I saw she was a nominee I thought, ‘There's only one way this award is going to go’. The sheer novelty value of me taking that award would have been lovely, but I was ever gracious in defeat.”
Jordan Young - Muddles
Returning to the Old Lady of Leven Street for a second year, River City and Scot Squad favourite Jordan is delighted to be back at the King's and has his fingers crossed that he'll be there for a while to come although he reflects that last year's cancellation allowed him to have a very special family Christmas.
“Last year was the first year in 20 years I didn't do a panto. A real blessing in disguise was that my kids were three and seven at time, the age when Santa and everything is so magical to them. It was a brilliant time to be there and the wife and I threw everything at it,” he says.
This year he's delighted to be back doing the 'day job' and working with one of his own panto heroes.
“For me, Allan is a phenomenal dame. I've been watching him for years and he is an absolute genius. To get the chance to be the daft boy on stage with him, I'm learning all the time. Today I used jokes that he gave me, saying, 'Try that'. I trust him implicitly because he's a master of his craft. I love doing routines with him.”
And the 41-year-old hopes it's a partnership that will endure.
“I hope to be back next year but until faces are on posters I always get nervous. If there’s one thing this business teaches you it's that things can change at the drop of a hat.”
Clare Gray - Narcissa
Having played an Ugly Sister in Cinderella and a bear in Goldilocks, 31-year-old Clare has more to do this year, including coming to terms with the electric scooter her character zooms around the stage on.
“I wasn't a fan of scooters at first,” she admits. “I certainly wasn't in rehearsals but I'm getting used to it now although, coming off stage at one point I pressed the brake lever a bit too hard and and nearly ended up flying over the handlebars. Luckily, I managed to catch myself.
“But I'm enjoying zooming around on it now though and it would be great to have it to scoot home on at night.”
Sia Dauda - Princess Aurora
Playing her first ever panto principal girl, 32-year-old Sia Dauda couldn't be more pleased to be Sleeping Beauty... although she'd love a bed in her dressing room.
“It's absolutely amazing, this my first panto as a principal and my first panto in Scotland. I love Edinburgh.”
Sia was spotted by director Ed Curtis while in the ensemble for last year's Milton Keynes panto.
“I was in rehearsal for the panto in Milton Keynes with Allan and Andy, which was directed by Ed. When we were about to start the tech rehearsal we got word that we'd gone into Covid level four and that was it. A few months later, I got a call from Ed asking if I wanted to audition for the Princess in Edinburgh? I thought I had no chance but I gave it a go and here I am.”
One thing she misses, however, is the social life normally associated with any panto as the cast stay in tight bubble to keep them safe. Perhaps they could make it a ‘Big Brother Panto House’, the cast all having beds in their dressing rooms and living in the theatre for the duration.
“I would love that," she laughs, “In fact, Nicola already has a blow up bed in her dressing room.”
And talking of Nicola…
Nicola Meehan - Good Fairy
Love brought west coaster Nicola to Leith when she fell for an east coaster and the city's port is now her home, so after years of working away at Christmas the 38-year-old is delighted to be making her debut in her 'hometown' panto.
“Oh my goodness,” she exclaims, “It felt a bit surreal to start with because normally, when I'm doing panto, I'm going home to digs in someone else's house, so to be in my own bed was quite surreal, but I'm not going to lie, it's quite nice.
“It's nice to be home and playing to a Scottish crowd. There's just a special connection, especially knowing that just about every day there is someone in the audience that I know.”
She continues, “There's not one moment of the panto that I don't enjoy and my dream would be to have a residency here, but it just depends what the panto is and what parts are available.”
Sleeping Beauty runs until January, 16, 2022