The Gang is Back!

Nov 16 2014 | By More

And it is bigger than ever

The biggest ever Edinburgh Gang Show is set to hit the stage of the King’s this week with what might also be the largest cast ever to appear in a show at the theatre.

There will be no change to the Gang Show’s winning formula of contemporary pop tunes, hits from musicals and topical comedy that has become the trademark of director Andy Johnston who is joined for the 12th successive year by John Duncan as MD and Louise Williamson as choreographer.

Gang Show 2014 Finale in rehearsal

Gang Show 2014 Finale in rehearsal. Photo: Edinburgh Gang Show

This is a show which has its roots in variety and music hall, just as much as the pantomime which follows it into the theatre, the week afterwards.

This year’s gang will feature over 320 youngsters during the whole run. The Brownies celebrate their centenary by providing two casts of 85 – performing in three shows each – 70 more than usual. A cast of 50 Cubs will perform on the whole run and there are another 110 in the main cast.

In an exclusive interview with All Edinburgh Theatre, director Andy Johnston made much of both the quality of the youngsters on the stage and the number who get an opportunity to be there, as he went through the numbers.

He added: “The thing I am most proud of at the moment is that, in the main cast of 108, only 11 of them that are over 18. So we have an average age of just over 13 years in the main cast, which is phenomenal. That is what it is all about!”

And unlike some Gang Shows around the world, where cast members stay on from year to year until their beards go grey, none of Johnston’s cast is over 25.

a strong reputation for their topicality

If the Gang is good, what then of the Show for 2014? With some sketches not being finalised until the last week of rehearsal, productions in the Johnston era have earned a strong reputation for their topicality.

The 2014 Gang. All 325 of them. Photo: Edinburgh Gang Show

The 2014 Gang. All 325 of them. Photo: Edinburgh Gang Show

“As always, we start off with virtually a blank page,” says Johnston. “Without giving too much away, we definitely reference everything that has been going on in Scotland over the last year. Albeit in as neutrally as we possibly can, because basically we make fools of everybody.

“The Commonwealth Games is in there, the World Cup is in there, the ongoing trials and tribulations of Edinburgh football are in there. The referendum gets touched on – as much as we are allowed to.”

Which is one of the caveats for such topicality – the Scouting movement is strictly neutral in political terms. So when it comes to the comedy Johnston likens his attitude to the light-hearted lampooning of newspaper cartoon rather than the biting satyr of a late night television show.

He says: “You have to remember the average age of our audience is quite young as well, so we are conscious who we are writing for. To portray, as we have in the past, Alex Salmond as a larger-than-life character, which he kind of is, is how we decided to go about that.”

music is the heart of the show

But it is the music which is the heart of the show. Big, colourful routines which pick up on the hits of the year and get that enormous cast on stage singing and dancing. Everything is, as it has been said, awesome.

“We’ve got everything from songs from the Lego Movie, to songs from Once,” confirms Johnston. “So again it is the usual wide variety that we throw in, everything from Gershwin to Frozen which is the movie of the year, isn’t it? I think my niece would never forgive me if I didn’t include it!

“It is all a lot more contemporary than we thought, because there are some songs there from the Thriller show and some from Barnum as well. So everything we put in seems to have fallen into place in the last few weeks.”

Johnston has been involved with the Edinburgh Gang Show rather longer than the dozen years he has spent running it. He first performed in it in 1980 as a 12-year-old. And he has got some of that youthful perspective back this year.

“My nephew makes his first appearance this year,” he says. “He is in Junior Gang for the first time. It has been interesting getting his perspective on it, which is completely different from the way I see it. He is overjoyed because he gets to be a reindeer – he was just made up when he was a reindeer, so that is fantastic.”

One of the pleasures of the Gang Show is the joy which fizzles off the stage of a cast who are having the time of their lives. So what are the gang looking forward to performing?

The Finale of Edinburgh Gang Show 2013. Photo: Susan Scott and Michael G Walker

The Finale of Edinburgh Gang Show 2013. Photo: Susan Scott and Michael G Walker

“Obviously they love the Frozen stuff, that does without saying,” says Johnston. “There is a rhythm based number at the start of the second half which is a little bit Gershwin, a little bit Moulin Rouge, a little bit up-tempo and they are throwing themselves into that with great gusto at the moment – they are absolutely loving that.

“But what has been really incredible is that we have only been able to rehearse for 12 weeks – from the end of the summer – and even in that short period of time, the transformation that you see in some of the young people is quite incredible. The level of commitment and energy that they throw into it is just fantastic.

“Ultimately this is not a show about scouting and guiding, but it is a show by scouts and guides. It is a fantastic thing: if people suddenly remember during the finale when they see the uniform that it is actually a scout show, then we have succeeded.”

Edinburgh Gang Show
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ
Tuesday 18 – Saturday 22 November 2014.
Daily, 7pm (Sat mat: 2.15pm).
Tickets from:


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