EPT’s windy bottom

Dec 13 2017 | By More

Has beans not has-beens in Panto land

Edinburgh People’s Theatre doesn’t give a hill of beans for modern turns on panto tradition, just the usual bag of magic ones, as the company prepares the Church Hill Theatre for Jack and the Beanstalk, its 66th consecutive pantomime.

The company is well known for its traditional take on the pantomime format with dragged-up dame and thigh-slapping principal boy – and it still finds time for redemption, topical gags and, if we are lucky, a place to vent your spleen on contemporary political stupidity.

Scarlett Massie and Lynsey Spence. Pic: Graham Bell

Mandy Black has been involved in fully two thirds of EPT’s pantomimes and this year returns to direct.

Black admits to being “old fashioned” when it comes to theatre. She explains: “I believe in the magical wonder of pantomime especially those that give the female and male actors equal pegging, which sadly in this day and age, is still lacking in most other forms of theatre.”

“I hold both the roles of dame and principal boy dear to my heart, having been lucky enough to have played both in my time,”she told Æ. “And I am delighted to say that this year, EPT have two very strong performers bringing these characters to life.”

The script, by prolific pantomime writer Alan Frayn, has been judiciously modified to give it an Edinburgh setting. Although quite how tenuous those modifications are remains to be seen – the Dimple family and their beloved cow, Buttermilk, reside in the “little known” Edinburgh suburb of Old Windy Bottom.

Buster Gut-Bucket

Jeopardy hangs over their heads (literally) in the form of giant Buster Gut-Bucket, who lives in his castle above them in the sky and of course there is an evil witch Piccalilli and Gut Bucket’s traditional increasing of the taxes on the impoverished villagers, including heroic Jack Dimple and his family.

Alistair Brown, Mags Swan and Derek Ward. Pic: Graham Bell

Playing heroic Jack – and practicing her thigh slapping technique – will be Scarlett Massie, with Peter Morrison hanging on in there as Jack’s brother, Simple Simon Dimple. This year’s Dame, Dotty Dimple, sees the return of Derek Ward to the Church Hill stage where he played the rather different role of the Narrator in the Twilighters’ production of The Drowsy Chaperone this April.

Black believes that many modern pantomimes have opted to move away from their traditional roots in an effort to be ‘new and different’.

“The female Principal Boy role has almost become extinct,” she says, “being replaced by that ‘hunky male TV celebrity’ who often has no real stage experience nor the ability to transfer their on-screen persona into the challenge of a truly magical family pantomime. This really saddens me and, personally, I believe it takes away some of the magic for the audience too.”

pull out all the casting stops

If the big professional pantomimes spend their money on big effects and big stars – to the detriment of the traditional range of minor characters – amateur companies have no such problem and can pull out all the casting stops when it comes to creating the full suite of lovelies, uglies, dafties, baddies and down-right evil beings.

Anne Mackenzie, Graham Bell and Lyzzie Dell. Pic: Graham Bell

So EPT have the luxury of Alistair Brown as good King Crumble the Umpteenth and Mags Swan as Queen Apricot, who decide enough is enough from old Gut Bucket – giving Jack take the chance to impress the girl of his dreams, Lynsey Spence as gorgeous Princess Charlotte (swoon)..

And when it comes to the forces of darkness, they have not one but four, with Carol Bryce and Stephanie Hammond stepping up as Snatchet and Scarper, the hapless henchmen, who might be just about to regret ever siding with Graham Bell’s Rancid the Ratman and Lyzzie Dell as Wicked Witch Piccalilli.

Sprinkling her magic dust over all will by Anne Mackenzie, bringing rhymes and light from Stage right, as Fairy Sugardust.

panto warriors of yore

There’s enough there to ensure that every child in the already all-but sold-out matinee performances has a ball, and Black is rightly looking forward to the pre-show buzz as panto warriors of yore explain to their younger siblings all the responses they will be expected to shout out and join in with and then the enthusiasm they all have when that time does actually occur.

Peter Morrison and Scarlett Massie. Pic: Graham Bell

But Black says there’s something special about those evening performances, too. When the audiences are able to cut through their surface sophistication and cynicism and let their inner child shine through.

“Much as I enjoy the squeals of delight from the young audience members who become so wrapped up in the experience, the real fun for me is the evening performances where you see the adults come along and really let their hair down, reliving the fun they had as a child growing up with the delight of panto each year. Oh yes, they do!”


Jack & The Beanstalk
Church Hill Theatre 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Friday 15 – Saturday 23 December 2017
Fri 15: 7pm; Sat 16: 11am, 3pm; Sun 17: 2.30pm; Tue 19-Fri 22:7pm; Sat 23: 2.30pm.

Tickets and details: www.ept.org.uk.

Stephanie Hammond and Carol Bryce. Pic: Graham Bell

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  1. Irene Beaver says:

    I must say that I am really looking forward to seeing Jack and the Beanstalk. Thanks for a wonderful preview Thom.