26 May 2024
  • 26 May 2024

PACE Panto Returns with Cinderella

on 9 December 2022 0

After pivoting to an online model, the famed PACE panto is back and being brought to life in a new venue

We all have our own individual festive traditions that are a hallmark of the holiday season. Whether it’s a pub crawl with pals or taking the kids to see Santa, there are some activities that it simply wouldn’t be Christmas time without.

Yet for all that we all celebrate in disparate ways, one long standing staple of our winter calendars that conjoins much of the local population is the PACE pantomime. A bonafide institution in the area, this show has brought incalculable happiness and cheer to Renfrewshire’s locals over its three decades in existence.

Led by panto vets Chris Alexander and Alan Orr as ‘the ugly sisters’ as well as Nina Gray in the titular role, this year will see them stage the classic tale of Cinderella and to say the stars are excited about returning to the panto would be an understatement. 

“Where panto lives is that feeling of live theatre with three generations of families all enjoying it together,” remarked seasoned actor Chris at PACE’s headquarters. “By the third show of the day, you need folk to give you that push. It’s a wonderful thing at this time of year, it’s wholesome. Plus, Scottish audiences are just gallus. Quite often, they give you a line and all I do is bank the best ones and claim them as mine (laughs). 

“The thing that sets panto audiences apart is that they’re a character,” Alan contended. “Even when we’re rehearsing, we always say ‘aw, we need an audience’. A lot of the time, you just don’t know how things are going to work. They’ve got lines and a part to play like no other form of theatre, they’re vital. Scottish pantos are different from anywhere else and everyone knows their role.

“Panto is unique in that it’s generally the only time where a whole family would consider going to the theatre and as a result, companies like PACE and others of a similar size always want to make it as affordable as possible for everyone to come along.” 

Bolstered by an excellent cast, the trio are all ecstatic to get started and are keen to uphold the legacy of PACE’s flagship show in a brand new venue of The Art Department. 

 “It’s great to have it back, particularly because everyone needs a laugh at the moment as we’re all stressed out our box!”

“It’s magical,” beamed Nina. “This is my first panto as a princess, but I’ve always grown up going. My mum always tells the story of how I’d get really cross because I wanted to be one of the kids on the stage rather than sitting in the audience.

“My whole family would go, including my grandparents, so it’s nice to be able to step into this role. Daunting, but I’m excited. I’ve got a little sister who’s nine years old and she’s very excited too, my mum cried when I told her.” 

“It’s all about retaining the magic and the story,” Chris affirmed. “I remember when I was a wee boy, seeing Rikki Fulton, my hero, doing Cinderella and it was one of the highlights of my life. They were great performers, but the story was so magic that it made it.

“With this panto, everybody gets their shoulder behind the wheel. It’s a tough schedule, you need robust folk to get into it and sell every show. Every audience is unique and when they come and sit in that room, that’s the only time that’ll happen throughout history.

“Everybody deserves the best show you can give. It’s great to have it back, particularly because everyone needs a laugh at the moment as we’re all stressed out our box! Plus, as I said to Alan when we were first cast opposite each other, I think Cinderella is the strongest panto story there is. 

“These stories continue and each actor brings their unique element or intonation to it,” he stated. “Dame, Silly Billy, Buttons, all these characters were here long before us and they’ll be here way after. We all just put our piece to it.

“Paisley might not have all the bells and whistles of a King’s Theatre, but it has all the heart and soul. A lot of that comes down to the good people who come to see it. There’s people who’ve been coming for thirty years straight and that’s why it’s so great it’s back as soon as you start missing that tradition.”

“That’s why we were so keen to get it on this year,” said his on-stage sibling, Alan. “The Arts Centre and a lot of other cultural venues are closing and people are finding it tough. So, I think what’s good about PACE is that they have the gusto to just build their own.

“The Arts Centre has been amazing for us, we love all the staff there and they always did a great job. It’s interesting as we’d been there for about 15 years, but I’m looking forward to it being in a slightly bigger venue as The Art Department will be double the capacity. We’re determined to keep the atmosphere that we had in the Arts Centre as that’s what makes it. Come hell or high water, we won’t lose any of that.” 

Photo by Graeme Hewitson ©Mill Magazine

Although this trio may be taking centre-stage in the starring roles, anyone that’s attended a PACE pantomime knows that the contributions of the organisation’s young actors are key to making it as special as it is. For Alan and co, the show is just inconceivable any other way.

“There’s four teams of 22 or 23 and they all just bring so much to it. In other pantos, the kids will be literally marched on to do a wee dance routine and marched back off,” he revealed. “Whereas in the PACE panto, they’re what make it unique. They bring such energy and talent to it.

“When we come in on a Tuesday morning and we’re like, ‘we’ve got three shows to do, how am I going to get through this?’ Seeing these 20 kids bound past gives you a lift. You don’t have a choice anyway, because if you don’t bring your energy, they’ll make you look like a fool. 

“Above all, that’s what we’re all about. PACE as a company is nothing without the kids, so it’d seem back to front for them not to take a central role. They always open the show and have important bits within the story, it just wouldn’t be PACE panto without them.”

“I wasn’t in PACE, but I’ve seen the pantos before and a lot of my friends grew up in it,” Nina declared. “I just love how different it is to them all. It’s such a gruelling schedule and for them to undertake that, they need to have so much passion for it. It’s great to feel like everyone’s in it together and enjoying it as even though it can be intense, it’s so much fun as well.”

“Over the years, there’ve been some brilliant young performers,” Chris enthused. “I don’t know how many times I’ve been buckled onstage with lines they’ve given me. It gives them the confidence to go on and potentially be a professional performer, whatever way that may be.

“It’s great to watch the teams all come together. Some of these kids are doing highers and coming in straight after maths prelims, so I’ve got all the respect for them. They all care about this company deeply, I hate to say it as it’s such an overused phrase,” he concluded, “but it has a real family feel and that’s why it’s amazing to be a part of.” 

To book tickets for the PACE panto, visit the website.

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