FRIENDS and family will see a rather different side to actor David Rankine this Christmas season.
The last time the Elgin actor was seen performing close to his home patch was in the title role of what — in keeping with theatrical tradition — he refers to as "the Scottish Play".
Over the next month, however, he will play an altogether sombre role as the thigh-slapping hero of this year’s Eden Court panto Aladdin.
Rankine remembers coming to Eden Court pantos as a child, but this is his first panto season at the Inverness theatre, even though he has plenty of experience of the seasonal staple elsewhere, including playing Prince Charming in Snow White and the genie in another Aladdin production.
This version has quickly put itself at the top of his favourite panto list by ensuring that he gets a share of the laughs, something that is not always the case with the hero role in panto.
"It is really good fun to play. It’s not your typical kind of straight man/romantic lead," he said.
"The genie was a really fun part to play, but I think I’m preferring this."
It is very different to his last few performances. As well as Shakespeare’s anti-hero in Macbeth the Remix, performed at Brodie Castle as part of the first Findhorn Bay Arts Festival, he more recently dipped a toe into the world of performance poetry with the show HOWLing in Glasgow.
"I don’t think I could have chosen three more different roles, but it’s been a lovely mix," he said.
"It’s something I really enjoy, the challenge of being versatile. I would never want to play the same thing over and over again — unless someone was offering me huge amounts, in which case I’d probably say yes!
"I like doing comedy. The instant response you get from that can be very gratifying. But equally I like the big dramatic space you get from something like Shakespeare."
His most recent Shakespearean role was performed not just on Rankine’s home patch of Moray, but the home too of the historical King Macbeth and Rankine acknowledges the thought had made playing the part quite eerie, similar to the experience he had of playing Shakespeare in the playwright’s home town of Statford.
"You think: This was his stomping ground — we really have to do this justice. It was amazing because it had huge technical visuals and music. It wasn’t a straight version of the show, but it was a real experience," he said.
Since moving away to study drama in Liverpool, Rankine says he has been fortunate that his career has brought him back to the Highlands and Moray.
"I’ve someone managed to get lots of bits and pieces up in this neck of the woods, which is really nice — because it means I get to stay with my mum and dad and get my meals cooked for me," he laughed,
"But it is a part of the world that I really love, so it is nice. I still have a lot of friends up here and it’s a chance for me to drag them along to see me in another thing. I have a lot of very supportive friends, which is nice."
One of those north performances was in the Play Pieces lunchtime theatre slot where Rankine not only performed but co-wrote the play B-Roads with fellow Moray performer and writer Morna Young, who more recently wrote Eden Court touring production Never Land.
It seems that writing is set to take up a bigger role in Rankine’s future.
"In the last couple of years I’ve really started to enjoy that side of things," he said.
"I used to describe myself as just an actor, then an actor and musician, and now I’m starting to dip my toe into actor-musician-writer. It sounds a bit daunting, but it’s a different kind of pressure. When you are performing in something you have written yourself, you can’t blame everyone else if it goes wrong."
Before he has to worry about generating any new material, however, he has some 54 performances of Aladdin at Eden Court to get through — each of them in front of a live audience who cane make every one of those shows unique.
"The audience is such a part of it that if they decide something is going to happen, you have to go with that to an extent," he said.
"Which is really fun, actually."
• Aladdin opens at Eden Court on Tuesday and runs until Sunday 4th January.