Sleigh Bells are ringing and lights are twinkling and people all over the country are heading out to pay a visit to the theatre for some colourful, festive shenanigans. Panto season is upon us and it’s the time of year that draws a bigger audience than any other to see what’s on our local stages. Most of us love a colourful fairy tale brought to life in front of us, we can’t seem to get enough of throwing foam bricks at the villain and catching sweeties from the comic character’s cap, but are we missing out on who’s treading the boards the rest of the year?
2023 has been a great year for drawing non-theatre-goers into our audiences in venues across our towns and cities. Scottish Theatre has delivered an incredible offering this year, and it’s inspiring to see so many programmes furnished with home-grown talent. If you’ve been lucky enough to see Cyprus Avenue, starring David Hayman and directed by Andy Arnold as he bows out of the Tron after 16 years, or his production of Nae Expectations adapted from Dickens by Gary McNair and starring Ayr’s own Karen Dunbar, or the National Theatre production of Enough of Him by Scottish playwright May Sumbwanyambe, I’d say you’ve had an enjoyable year in the audience. Closer to home, Kilmarnock’s Theatre Alliance’s Production of Silenced and Geez a Break’s nostalgic play When We Were Young at the HAC were both thought provoking and entertaining. The pick of 2023 for me, though, was Eilidh Loan’s Moorcroft. Loan made her writing and directing debut with this poignant and truthful play based on her father’s younger years in an amateur football team in Renfrew. A tragedy, peppered with comedy, Moorcroft tackles mental health, homophobia, illness and racism and attracted audience members who had never been to the theatre. It’s a must-see.
This year’s highlights for me as a writer and director have been tackling historical issues and taking stories like the 17th century witchcraft trials and the Great Fire of Ayr to the stage in site specific productions. Often untold stories like these really come alive when delivered theatrically, and we take lessons as a community from what we see on the stage. As 2023 draws to a close, I’ll be kicking off the festivities in New York to catch the theatrical spectacular that is the Thanksgiving Parade. Of course a trip to the Big Apple wouldn’t be complete without taking in the latest that Broadway has to offer, so much to my musical theatre-loving daughter’s delight, we’ll be heading for the bright lights. But what I look forward to the most is a visit to St Anne’s Warehouse Theatre in Brooklyn. This former spice mill has been a much celebrated venue in the city since 2000, winning awards for the development of new work and programming some classic and coveted productions. I hope to take some inspiration for my own renovation project at The Iris when I’m there.
When I return, in keeping with tradition, I’ll be off to see a panto, of course.