What links Langholm with 15th century Italy? A well-established and much loved tradition of Pantomime. Oh yes it does! The Italian version was called Commedia dell’arte and had many of the elements we would still recognise today – like the Dame and the Villain plus the promise of a positive message, belly-aching laughter, and a night of pure enjoyment.
That’s certainly what you’re guaranteed at the Buccleuch Centre from December 12-15 when Centre Stage presents this year’s Muckle Toon Pantomime – Mother Goose.
John Innes takes the role of Director for the first time this year, working with a troupe of returning cast members and up-and-coming pre-teens. He says, ‘The Panto has no boundaries on age, no boundaries on experience and brings time to just relax and enjoy yourself.’
Meet the Cast: The principal roles in most Pantomimes are predominantly filled by adults, but in Langholm, younger actors and actresses are stepping into the limelight this year, taking on the funniest, most valiant, and sometimes most absurd roles the genre has to offer.
The King is played by Lewis Mackenzie (12). He says he never really gets nervous, until he’s about to perform, and from there he just ‘wings it,’ and has fun. The role of Queen Goosgog is shared, with both Alice Roberts (12) and Chloe Duncan (11) taking on the part.
The magical fairy, portrayed by Ray Graham, is a kind and gentle character. Ray believes Panto is especially important for young people, because it gives them a chance to experience and practice acting. Ray likes her character because she is ‘kind, positive and spiritual’.
12 year old Seth Brown plays the part of ‘Silly Billy.’ He lives with The Dame and is an ‘audience friend’- which is a Pantomime term describing the essential character who interacts with the audience most. Langholm’s favourite Dame Leslie Murray takes on the role of Mother Goose. He has been playing the Dame in Langholm’s Pantomimes for a decade, having first started in the Centre Stage production of ‘Cinderella’. His comedic acting and costuming is the highlight of the show for many. ‘I went along to get to know the show,’ Leslie recalls his Pantomime debut, ‘and Angus McCall was there as well, and we ended up being the Ugly sisters. Ever since then I’ve been type cast. There hasn’t been anyone else coming year after year wanting to be the Dame, and I enjoy it. You get to interact with the audience.’
The Muckle Toon Panto is famous for its hilarious characters and note-worthy moments of audience interaction. Centre Stage never fails to put on a show which involves the crowd, and this community spirit remains an integral part of the performance. ‘Breaking the Fourth Wall’ in a theatre production is a trademark of British Pantomime, and the audience is not only allowed, but actively encouraged to ‘Boo’, ‘hiss’ and jeer as much as they like.
The founders of Centre Stage, Chris Jones and Judith Johnson have produced and organised the Langholm Pantomime for twelve years. Their hard work and passion has made the Panto nothing short of an establishment in the Muckle Toon, and the source of much holiday joy.
‘Centre Stage, since its creation, has always been a Community Theatre,’ Chris says. ‘What’s evident to me is the passion that people put into the production. The costumes, the props teams, the number of people who are dedicated and have built up an expertise, just demonstrates the passion of being involved in a community project. Yes, there are many some great actors on stage, but there are just as many people off stage and behind the scenes.’ With this year’s Panto drawing many of Langholm’s younger actors into the spotlight, Judith has no doubt about her favourite part of it all.
‘Seeing the youngsters, often very nervous, sometimes reluctant, starting to join in and seeing their confidence grow. Of course, on the first show night, when everything comes together, that’s just wonderful.’
When asked what makes Langholm panto special, she says ‘Many people would describe Centre Stage as a family. I think that fun, enjoyment and vibrancy goes into the productions.’
Judith believes it’s really important to keep the tradition of panto alive. ‘For many people, pantomimes are their first experience of theatre, whether that’s performing or watching. It’s an easily accessible form of theatre. It’s energetic and it’s a team effort. Sometimes you might think is it all worth it, but then you look down from backstage on the first night and see all sorts of people, young children, old grannies, toddlers, all singing and clapping and joining in. And that’s a truly wonderful thing’
There’s no doubt that this year’s panto will be a hit, with a brilliant cast, hilariously funny script and strong sense of community spirit. Just make sure to buy your tickets quickly- before they all sell out.