Published: 26/12/2015 09:51 - Updated: 24/12/2015 09:57

There's nothing like (being a) panto dame

Iain Wotherspoon as Nanny McSmee
Iain Wotherspoon as Nanny McSmee

A LITERARY classic acquires a new character at Eden Court this winter.

Anyone familiar with JM Barrie’s original play and novel about the Boy Who Never Grew Up might struggle to recall Nanny McSmee, the mother of villainous Captain Hook’s least threatening underling, but that is because she has been especially created for this panto adaptation.

After all, without her Eden Court’s show would be without one of the most vital ingredients of pantomime – the dame.

"Quite often, Peter Pan is done without a dame, but in this one we have Smee’s mother, Nanny MacSmee, who is the cook on the pirate ship, The Jolly Roger," Iain Wotherspoon, the actor to found underneath Nanny McSmee’s extensive petticoats, explained.

"It is a lovely play, but at Christmas, children are expecting a panto, which is why we do have traditional comedy characters in this version with the dame.

"Smee and Nanny are almost a double act. We each have our own scenes, but we also work together in interacting with the audience."

She might, officially at least, be part of the pirate crew, but Nanny is certainly not one of the baddies, Iain pointed out.

"She’s quite motherly, but inevitably, like any dame, she’s always after a man," he said.

"It’s a difficult one because she’s on the pirate ship, but she’d rather not be a pirate.

"If you are playing one of the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella, that’s very different. That’s almost not a dame because they are baddies, whereas in this, and in other shows where you have got a proper dame as such, they tend to be a much nicer person. And it’s really lovely doing it and having that interaction with the audience and the kids, which is great fun."

That interaction means that Iain, like any dame, has often to think on his over-sized high heels.

"You never know what you’re going to get back from the audience," he agreed.

"I certainly remember one time we were doing the song sheet a few years ago in Dunfermline and one child suddenly shouted out from the audience that I was too fat! So we got him out of the audience to show me exercises to do! So you never know quite what you are going to end up with."

Ironically enough, Iain is unlikely to need to do any exercises to lose weight, not when so much of each performance is spent getting into what he calls Nanny McSmee’s "very tasteful, very restrained and very dignified" wardrobe.

"Who needs aerobics?" he chuckled.

"We have got really good dressers at Eden Court who are such a help. You could not do dame without a dresser. It is literally rushing off, usually into the wings, having things pulled off you and things pulled on you, so in a funny way, you don’t actually see a lot of the dressing room in the show."

Which is a pity since the dressing facilities have improved greatly since Iain’s first Eden Court panto, Aladdin, quarter of a century ago.

However, like other members of the cast visiting from points south, Iain will be sacrificing his own family Christmas to help bring some seasonal joy to the Highlands.

"For quite a few years I toured in Germany and I was in Germany for Christmas, which was lovely, and back then, when my parents were younger, they would come over so we could have Christmas together," he said.

"But you do get used to being away for Christmas, and especially somewhere like Inverness, where there are so many people from Glasgow or Edinburgh who can’t get back, several of us get together and have Christmas together. We make it a company Christmas."

Peter Pan continues at Eden Court’s Empire Theatre until January 10, except Monday 21 and Friday 25 December and Friday 1 and Thursday 7 January.

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