Meet The Cast
of Ya Wee Beauty and The Beastie
Our marvellous press person, Paul McCabe, has done a series of in depth interviews with all the cast for our 2023 Pantomime production of Ya Wee Beauty and The Beastie!
Kirkcaldy’s very own Sarah Brown Cooper says returning to her hometown to take to the stage in panto is “a dream come true”.
After her starring role in last year’s smash hit ‘Ya Wee Sleeping Beauty’, Sarah is coming back to join the cast at the Kings for 2023’s ‘Ya Wee Beauty and The Beastie’ and is eager to work once again with director Jonathan Stone, the man who kickstarted her acting career in the Lang Toun.
“I was just a child, but Jonathan gave me my first professional role in a professional production,” she says, “that was Aladdin at the Adam Smith Theatre which I think I was in 2010.
“I was 10 or 11 and I was so starstruck by everyone. It was my first time working with professional actors and I remember being in awe but at the same time I was like a sponge, just watching and trying to soak up everything they were doing.
“I remember looking at the princess and thinking ‘I want to be her; I want to do that’.
“I did the panto with Jonathan four times and then he gave me the call to come
and do it again here at the Kings. So, it’s a massive tick in the box – it really has
been a dream come true to be the princess for him.”
The Kirkcaldy panto set the seed for Sarah who says from then on,
she was determined to make it as an actress.
“I was quite young when I decided this is what I wanted to do. I think I had
decided by the time I started high school.
“I had a pretty clear idea that I was going to be on the stage. I was going to
perform whether it was dance or acting. My whole period at high school was
structured around that.
“I never had a doubt in my mind from that point. That’s what I was doing and that was it! I was VERY set on it. It’s quite a lucky position to be in.
“I was into music and drama and did that whilst I was studying and alongside doing that at school, I went to Gail Neish dance studios in Kirkcaldy where I learned to dance.
“I began with dance first. I started ballet when I was four, then I learned tap. I just went with it from there. I never really stopped, I just did more and more.
“All the way through school I was doing drama lessons at the Adam Smith Theatre as well as at school and I was always loved it. When I was 14 or 15 I decided to do musical theatre and that’s when I started to learn to sing.
“So alongside school, I was dancing every night, I was taking singing lessons
and drama lessons and doing shows.
“I remember in my last year at Balwearie; I was doing my final exams, I was
auditioning for drama schools, I was doing a panto, I was doing shows at
Gail Neish’s and I was doing other little performances along the way. When
I look back now, I think ‘how did I survive that year?!’
“I did so many things, but it was just so good, and I think because Kirkcaldy
is a smaller town you get support from people and they do genuinely care
“There are people like Jonathan who’s known me since I was a child. He gave
me a call 10 years later asking me to come and do a panto.
“It’s great to have those sorts of connections.”
The end of high school saw Sarah head south to London where she’s lived ever since, teaching dance alongside working as an actress.
“I went to London Studio Centre. It was quite a big move. I was excited but naïve! I had no idea what I was getting into.
“I graduated from Balwearie in July and moved to London in September, aged 18. Before I did my degree I did a year at BIRD College, which is a really prestigious school for musical theatre.
“They were a break you down to build you up kind of thing, I found that difficult. London Studio Centre had a more supportive, holistic view of the industry. They would say this is the reality of it, but this is how you get there safely and healthily, which was a good way of training for me.
“It was quite intensive. Generally, it was Monday to Friday from 8.30 in the morning to six or 6.30 in the evening. We would start every morning with ballet, then depending on the day there were jazz or tap classes.
“There were workshops for musical shows, people would come in from the industry to talk to us, we learned about dance history.
“We also learned about sports science and nutrition, the sort of stuff that goes hand in hand with being a performer. On top of that we would sometimes have to go in at the weekends or in the evening for rehearsals.
“I spent three years there, which were pretty full on. People thought because I was in London, I’d be going out all the time but it was pretty much my accommodation and the Studio or the gym.
“It was very closed off but a great place to learn. I learned a lot and graduated with my degree in 2018.
“In my final year we did a production of Legally Blonde The Musical where I was playing Vivian. I invited loads of agents along and after it a few got back to me and I signed up with one of them in the bar after the show.
“It was a good way to finish.”
Now out into the big, bad world, Sarah began the process of looking for work and admits it was difficult to begin with.
“When I first started going for auditions it was scary, it was nerve-wracking. I'd get the shakes, I wouldn't be myself. I would be uptight thinking ‘what do they want?’
“As a performer when you're fresh, especially when you got roles easily at college, you can meet casting directors who don't have a lot of time, you get no feedback and it feels really personal if you don't get the part.
“People say it all the time, you need a tough skin in this industry. When you're meeting a director they usually have a general idea of what they're looking for so they're trying to fit a piece of a jigsaw into an already huge puzzle.
"So you might give the best audition you've ever given but you might be too tall for the lead man they've already cast, you might be alto when they need a soprano, you might not fit the costumes they've already started to make - it can be literally anything. You don't know the answer and you never will know the answer.
“You have to say to yourself ‘I just don't have what they need’. It's not a reflection on me or my talent, it's just what they need right now. When you can shift your mindset to that it's a whole new world.
“When I get an audition now I see it as an opportunity to perform. It's out of my control. All I can do is be prepared, go in, be myself, do the best I can and if I fit, I fit. If I don't then it's on to the next one.
“It gives you a more healthy view of the industry. If you do get a rejection, especially if it's a job that you really want, then it does hurt. But I'll allow myself to be sad, then the next day it's 'right, what's next?'.
“It's definitely easier than it used to be and I'm happy with the way things are going for now.
“I did a quite exciting job this year where I got to play the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. It was immersive theatre which I hadn't done before. I had no expectations and I learned a lot.
“Also, I was quite proud of myself because I'd never played the villain before! It was a change for me and I got to explore that.
“Actually, it was quite funny because I would tell people who I was working with that I was playing the princess in panto this year and they said they couldn't imagine me doing it. They just saw me as an evil character!
“Another highlight was performing at the Royal Albert Hall in 2022. I was dancing in a show called Classical Spectacular with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
“The goal in the end is to do international tourist musicals, being in the West End. I've done both stage and screen but for me there's something about live theatre that has just that little spark of magic.
“When things come together and they work, adding in the energy of the audience, it creates magic which is really hard to get on screen.
“In theatre you can really lose yourself in it and get into a scene, with film it's hard to ignore that there's three or four cameras pointing at you in a room full of people. You've got your start and end; you're not repeating it three or four times.
“They're two different beasts. Especially something like panto which is a whole style in itself and larger than life. Panto even compared to a musical is a whole different style of acting and performance.
“It's fun switching between all of them. The best thing about my career so far is that I've been able to switch between all of them.
“It keeps it fresh and exciting.”
Now Sarah is preparing to end the year and kick off 2024 in Kirkcaldy's best panto, saying she’s especially looking forward to teaming up once again with Billy Mack, who she calls “a master”.
“I love Billy!” she says.
“As a kid he would make me laugh all the time. I told him back then that
I wanted to move to London and he said "dinnae dae it, hen" - I reminded
him of that!
“Working with him now you can see he's such a master at what he does.
I don't understand how he comes up with all the things he does. It's such
“He's so exciting to work opposite. He is very respectful in that he'll stick
to the script whilst you're rehearsing. He's always very professional, but
with a laugh which is the best combination.
“As soon as you're feeling settled he'll play with it which is so much fun.
He sees what works and what doesn't and he can get a different reaction
from the audience every night. He's got so many ideas.
“If you see the show at the start and the end of the run the difference is huge, it's like a different show. Usually because of what Billy has done!
“Working with him is an absolute joy.
“It was my first full run last year and the best thing about working with this company is how well we all gel together.
“We found our feet as we were going along and because we know each other so well now I think we will hit the ground running this year.
“We became very close and I'm excited to work with them again and see what we will come up with.
“Performing this in Kirkcaldy is hugely special to me. It's my hometown. It's a tick off the bucket list for me to be in a Jonathan Stone pantomime in Kirkcaldy.
“There's something about Kirkcaldy audiences, they're just so joyful and they're with you all the way. The feedback we got last year was incredible.
“I'm really looking forward to it.”
Looking for tickets?
“It’s going to be better than last year’s!”
So says Mark McDonnell, star and co-writer of this year’s panto at the Kings.
Having played King Horn in 2022, Mark will take to the stage as the character Jings, as the same cast reunites for ‘Ya Wee Beauty and The Beastie’.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” says the honorary Scot, who has lived north of the border since arriving as a fresh-faced drama student in the 1980s.
“I’m from Bolton in Lancashire originally,” he says.
“By sixth form at school, I had decided by then I wanted to be an actor - an idiot thing to do but there you go! But we didn't have drama at our school but there was an amateur dramatics club in town which had a youth section, so I did that for a bit and that made me think this is definitely what I want to do.
“It's something that a lot of people think they would like to have a go at because
it's unquantifiable really. When you start off you are invariably rubbish at it,
I think. You only get good as you learn.
“I think I was about 14 when I decided I wanted to do it which was funny
because I was, and still am really, quite shy. But there's another side to that
which means I will show off massively!
“But it was around that age that I decided I was going to do this. There was no
doubt in my mind whatsoever and I stuck to my guns, even when I was getting
all the usual "you need to get a real job" stuff from my family.
“So instead of doing sixth form I went to Salford Technical College where there
was a two-year performing arts course. Christopher Eccleston had done it
just before me and after I was there people like Maxine Peake and Peter Kay did it. It was a really good course.
“After that, when I was looking for a drama school to get into, my local authority wouldn't give me a grant because they wouldn't accept it as a course. I would only get a grant if I found a course that was part of an institution, not a drama school in its own right.
“So, I applied to Queen Margaret in Edinburgh when it was still a college and got accepted. I moved up just after I had turned 18 and it's been my home ever since.”
This year has seen Mark share the screen in Good Omens 2 with Michael Sheen as well as voicing a character in the animated kids’ series Olga Da Polga.
He says he enjoys the variety that comes with the job.
“As an actor you dip your toes into TV and theatre. It's a freelance life so you take whatever you can get. There aren't that many who say I'm just doing theatre or I'm only stickling to telly.
“The difference in performance is that in theatre or panto you get a direct response. It's not necessarily about subtlety or anything like that, it's scale. You just do the same thing but tone it down.
“If it's film or telly or radio you can do so much more just with your eyes or face without having to project to the back row, but it's basically the same job I would say.
“You're just trying to convey the meaning of what the writer and director want in the best possible way, but the outcome is always the same.”
As well as acting, Mark turns his hand to writing, something he says he now really enjoys after an uncertain start.
“It was something that I had always wanted to do but I had even less confidence in doing that, but I first started in the late 90s.
“I got together with another actor called Steve McNicol and we had a comedy double act for a while.
“We wrote a show for ourselves which we did during the Edinburgh Festival and that won an award which was great for my confidence as a writer, then we got commissioned to write for Radio Four. So we wrote a sitcom for ourselves in which we played all the characters!
“We wrote a few more things after that which all led up to the TV series 'Velvet Soup' which was on BBC2. We wrote a few of the sketches for that as well as performing in it.
“I've done a fair bit of writing since then, not as much as I would like to but it's hard work getting the jobs. You're just constantly knocking on doors and sending emails but I'm still doing it and I'm working on this year's panto of course.”
Mark is hard at work on the script for “Ya Wee Beauty and The Beastie” in tandem with director, Jonathan Stone; the pair having a working relationship that goes back decades.
“Jonathan was the year above me at drama school, so we met then,” he says.
“That was in 1986 and I've worked with him on and off over the years.
“Last year I said to him ‘let me rewrite the show’, the one that had been curtailed due to Covid the year before, so we did that, and this year we've set out to write it together.
“I wrote the first act myself and sent it to him. He said, "what is this?!" and I said I've just written it to make you get on with it!
“He'll knock that around and send it back to me. I'll rewrite it and then get on with the second act. He's very good at getting what he needs from the story and what order the scenes go in.
“It's great. I love writing panto. It's brilliant and as an actor I've always done panto.
“We actually did two when I was at Queen Margaret. I loved it straight away. It completely appealed to me. I was a huge fan of Morecombe and Wise which is based on variety, as is panto.
“Panto is like those old variety routines. They're as old as the hills but you still laugh because they were so brilliantly written and brilliantly structured.
“I've sort of switched between pantos and Christmas shows over the years, but I do prefer panto. It's so unique and Christmas shows tend to take themselves a bit too seriously.
“Panto breaks the fourth wall and throws in a bit of anarchy. I think I must've done between 25-30.”
As a panto veteran, Mark says he particularly enjoys performing at the
Kings, declaring it to be completely unique.
He said: “The main difference with this one at the Kings is that it's small.
There's only a cast of five and that's really unusual for panto.
“Even if you do have a smallish cast, you'd still have dancers and usually
there would be kids too. You always have more people on the stage that
in this production so this a unique thing.
“We have to do everything, but I think that's the brilliant selling point of it.
That's what makes it fantastic. And it's the same five of us as last year
which makes for a really strong team.
“Because it's only us to do all the singing, all the dance routines, all the
comedy and all the story telling, it's much harder work than other pantos -
you have to pick up the slack.
“I've played lots of dames in the past and you're constantly busy because if you're not onstage you're backstage getting changed, but some other parts can be a breeze, sitting about in the dressing room for a bit, but you can't do that in this.
“I think though with it just being the five of us it's a huge plus. We work as a close-knit team, and it really suits the live room.
“I'm really looking forward to it - we just need to crack on and finish the script!
“It's going to be better than last year, I think. It's really funny. We've got some
cracking routines for Billy in mind and Beauty and The Beast is a good story
“We're going to have some great songs, some older than others but I think
people will remember them all! There'll be more of the same nonsense from
me and Billy!”
He added: “I'm really excited about it. It's going to be great!”
Looking for tickets?
Kirkcaldy’s very own Kirsty Strachan is getting back to where it all started for her as she joins the cast of ‘Ya Wee Beauty and The Beastie’ at the Kings over the festive season.
The Langtonian will play Madam Thornybush at the Kings this Christmas and says it was watching a panto as a child when she was immediately bitten by the acting bug.
“I went to Cinderella at the Adam Smith Theatre when I was eight years old. I was staring at the dancers, mesmerised, and I turned to my mum and said, ‘I want to do that’.”
“I was doing disco dancing at that point with Julie Ritchie at the YMCA on Tuesdays and Saturdays, but I said to my mum ‘that’s definitely what I want to do’.
“It was the first time I’d been in a theatre as well and I thought it looked like the best thing ever. They were all having so much fun."
“So, when my mum saw in the Fife Free Press the following year that they were holding auditions I went along and not only did I get in, I got a speaking part."
“I was one of the Babes in the Wood. It was just amazing.”
After three more pantos, Kirsty joined the prestigious Italia Conti School and set off to live in London aged just 14.
“I wanted to go there because I used to watch Sunday Night at the London Palladium on TV and when the credits came up at the end it used to say that all the kids had come from there,” she says, “I went to the library to find the address. I was all in!"
“My mum kept saying that I was too young, I couldn’t go and we didn’t have enough money, but I had spoken to the librarian who had said I’d get a grant from Fife Council. "
“I was 14 and had been harping on about Italia Conti since the age of nine! But I was so focused and just had to do it.
“I went down to London and passed the audition, but my grant only covered my school fees so my mum and dad had to pay for my accommodation. I stayed with a lovely couple in Tulse Hill. "
“The school was split into half day education then until about 8 o’clock at night it was drama, dancing, singing etc. I did a few plays and things there, and some singing in bands, performing, dancing. I loved it though I did miss home terribly.
“London just wasn’t for me though. It put me off a bit.”
Aged 18, and back home in Scotland, Kirsty says she had given up thinking
about acting, though kept her hand in creatively by singing in bands.
She said: “I wasn’t thinking at that point that I’d ever be an actress again.
I was just enjoying the break and enjoying the fact that I had something else
to do but was still being creative at weekends.
“But then I went to a one-year performing arts course in Yorkshire where I
met a lot of amazing people and the guy who ran it said to me that I should
really be an actress. "
“So, I said that if I was going to train, because Italia Conti had just been
singing and dancing, I really wanted to go back to Scotland.”
And back to Scotland she came, to Edinburgh to be precise, where she studied drama for “the best three years of my life” at Queen Margaret College.
She says: “I was commuting from Kirkcaldy and I loved it.
“Everything was based on your performances. I learned all the tools you need as a performer. At the end of each term there was a play and that’s what you got marked on. Not on writing or anything like that so that suited me fine! "
“On our last day we did a performance for people in the business, and I got an agent straight away and I was blessed that I worked for four full years after that. "
“I went to America, I did four tours around Scotland, a Canadian tour, musicals, lots of physical theatre and I presented a children’s TV show on STV with David Sneddon. That’s how I was able to buy my flat. "
“And I was in the Oscar Wilde play ‘The Happy Prince’ on Broadway, that was a real highlight for me.”
On her return from New York, Kirsty began her relationship with her husband,
Tony. A fellow student at Queen Margaret, though the pair had first met as
“We first met in Oliver at the Adam Smith Theatre when I was 12 and he was
10, then we met again at Queen Margaret,” Kirsty says.
“We got married onstage at the Adam Smith Theatre because that was where
we had met. "
“When we first got married, I carried on acting but I stopped going on tour
and then when I had my children, I took about six years off.
“Then when they were both at school, I decided to get back into it.”
The couple are both well-known faces in Kirkcaldy, combining acting with running their vegan café, Kangus on the High Street, which Kirsty says keeps them both extremely busy.
“I’ve had a very good year, though it’s been hectic,” she says.
“I worked at The National doing a development piece earlier in the year and that was incredible. I did an advert, a play called ‘Forever Home’, an ITV drama – it's been really good, though at times it’s been difficult with running Kangus at the same time. But it’s a great life and we love it there. "
“I’ve had quite a lot on, so it’s been hard for Tony and this year for the first time since we’ve had our children we’re both doing Christmas shows.
Kirsty is particularly looking forward to returning to the Kings, saying: “There’s something about performing in your own town that’s so joyous”.
“You’re looking at the audience and you know all these people. It’s absolutely brilliant. "
“And the warmth and love you feel from them is amazing. Especially with our script being so Kirkcaldy based.
“When do you ever get to do a show that is based on your hometown?
With people from your hometown in it?"
“That’s why I wanted to do this show. I wanted to be here, performing for
people from this town and who love this town as much as I do and having
the best time ever! "
“I love it at the Kings. There’s a really good team behind the scenes there
and there’s something really intimate about that space. It’s beautiful."
“For an actor to be that close to the audience, you can’t beat that. I love it,
being right in their faces. There’s something so special about that. You’re
all in it together and it feels like a massive experience. "
“The cast are all amazing. I’ve worked with a lot of dames and Billy Mack
has that glint where you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen. "
“He bounces off people, he’s very special and he’s a really good actor. People come just to see him. He’s so brilliant."
“The adult shows are brilliant, such good fun. It’s like ‘Carry On Up The Kings’! They're not in bad taste with lots of bad language or anything like that. "
“Also, what panto makes people cry?! I’ve been doing pantos since I was nine and I’ve never seen that before like last year.
“Obviously, it’s a panto so people are laughing and clapping and singing along, but to have a weep because this is all about their hometown and how special it is? Incredible.”
She added: “I love Kirkcaldy very much. I really do.
“When people slag it off it really irritates me. I mean we all do but if you’re from here you can get away with it!”
Looking for tickets?
Panto star Billy Mack says his annual appearance in Kirkcaldy is “a privilege”, as he gets ready to take to the stage in the Lang Toun once again.
Billy will play Dame Kitty McCrivvens inn ‘Ya Wee Beauty and The Beastie’ at the Kings over the festive season, and it was in Kirkcaldy that he took his first steps towards becoming the much-loved panto legend he is today.
'Dame Kitty McCrivvens'
He said: “When I first graduated from drama school, I was doing Christmas shows rather than panto. I think the closest I came was ‘The Wizard of Oz’.
“Instead, it was ‘The Twits’ or ‘The BFG’, not really panto as such. There was no call and response to the audience or anything like that.
“I’d been in Kirkcaldy as a kid with the Scottish Youth Theatre at the Adam Smith and Sheila Thomson who used to run it remembered me from back then and she suggested me to Jonathan (Stone, panto director and co-writer) to play a king or something.
“So, I auditioned but Jonathan didn’t think I was right for the part, instead he offered me the part of Abanazar, the baddie in Aladdin, down in Hereford. They were doing a twin thing with Kirkcaldy at the time, where the show would be on here one year, then down there next.
“I went and did that and at the time we had a dame called Nick Collet, who was brilliant. He was the type of guy, if there was an ad lib that was funny, it was introduced into the show.”
Billy said he found his first panto liberating, enjoying the aspect of interacting with the audience most of all.
“You got to break down the fourth wall, talk to the audience and get a response from them. I was actually a pretty good baddie and, thanks to Nick and his generosity, I might have won the audience over a little bit.
“And I just loved it, I thought ‘this is great fun’. It’s brilliant. It’s Brechtian. It’s a form of theatre that I really enjoy.
“If you don’t get the audience straight away you have to work a bit harder until you get them or admit defeat and run off with your tail between your legs!”
Having completed the run in Hereford, Billy was offered the part of the dame
in ‘Babes in the Wood’ at the Adam Smith, which would prove to be his first
steps towards a long love affair with the town.
“I’d never been a dame before,” he remembers, “I’d had a taste of it and learned
a lot from Nick, so I just came on and something happened between me and
the Kirkcaldy audience.
“I made the character very much local to the area – and not a drag act either.
I’m not a guy dressed as a woman, I’m playing a woman. I’m quite comfortable
playing another gender. I’ve got no problem with it.
“Once that costume’s on, in my head I really do think that I’m a woman – who's
just a bit rough and very down to Earth!
“So, I kind of tested my capabilities then with that audience and my confidence grew. I did it for a number of years and now it’s just part of my Christmas.”
Naturally, appearing in panto every year means a lot of time away from home, but Billy says he always tried to include his family as much as possible.
“Having two kids who were growing up, it was tough for them because their dad was away, but I always had Christmas Day off and they got to come and see the show, which became part of their Christmas.
“The whole family came; my in-laws and my nieces and nephews, so it was a big tradition. For maybe 15-20 years they all came to panto to see Uncle Billy, or cousin Billy or their dad.
“It was a big part of my life.
“On top of that, it’s work at Christmastime. For an actor, that’s your bread and butter so I could get my kids their Christmas presents. The rest of the year you’re scrimping and saving.
“I took jobs as a labourer, on building sites, as a driver. Anything to just earn a crust. But panto meant we could get the kids nice presents – and pretend we were a middle-class family!”
Now firmly entrenched at the Kings, Billy says he still retains fond memories of his time at the Adam Smith Theatre, where he first met the Kirkcaldy crowds.
“It was delicious working there. The staff, the stage crew, we had regulars in the audience every year and would let us know they were in.
“Over the years we had the Caravan Club, the Stroke Club, groups for people with sight loss, lots of local groups like that.
“They would come every year and I would include them in the panto by taking the mick out of them. It was great, it was something to look forward to every year.
I cut my teeth at the Adam Smith. They were really good. When Sheila was running it, it was a bit more personal than it was later on.
“I had a contract at Dundee Rep at that time, but I negotiated with them so I could get time off to come and do the panto, but by that time the contract at the Adam Smith had been changed and they brought in Imagine.
“They’re a brilliant company and the actors are buddies of mine, but what they do is a recognisable production that has been seen before. And it works.
“But what we do here at the Kings is a local production. We’re individual and specific to Kirkcaldy.
“People from the area will understand our pantomime.”
This year’s panto will see Billy once again teaming up with Jonathan Stone, a
partnership that goes back a long way, yet still continues to endure.
Billy says: “I've worked with him for a long time. We had a couple of years apart
when I was at the Alhambra, which is another fantastic venue, then the Kings
“Jonathan has an amazing brain; he comes up with the most obscure little
twists and turns which really work. And he understands pantomime. He has
fantastic vision. As audiences will see he’s recreated the streets of Kirkcaldy
for the pantomime. And there’s castles and pubs and things like that.
“He’s also a great film buff so you’ll be thinking, ‘that sounds familiar, where’s
that from?’ and you realise it’s from ‘La Vie En Rose’, so he's got little things
that he sneaks in which are so clever, and he maybe doesn’t get the credit for it, but he loves it.
“When I was offered the job here, I said I would like it if Jonathan was available, the Kings said yes, and that was us back together. And with Scotty (Graham Scott, stage technician). There’s never a show without him. When I did the shows in Dunfermline it felt like there was a piece missing.
“Scotty’s my sounding board. I’m always asking him, ‘what about this or that?’. We’ve spent many an evening going through the script at his house looking at what we can do with it or what we could add.
“These are old pals who I’ve worked with nearly every year for the last 15 years. You get to know them very well.”
Billy has embraced the change from larger venues to a smaller room at the Kings, saying he took to it straight away.
“I loved it, because it is personal. You can see the whites of the audiences’ eyes. I’m literally on your lap!
“Last year I had a scene where I came in with a caber and I was falling about into the audience. That was a lot of fun. And you’re literally having conversations with them, it’s that close and intimate.
“I love a big auditorium playing to a massive crowd – it's like being a rock star. This is like being a rock star as well but doing an acoustic gig. And people are to listen to you and your music with the rhythms, being close up and personal.
“It’s a different audience but it’s just as intense and rewarding for me as an actor. More than I had anticipated. As soon as I got out there, I thought, ‘this is brilliant’.”
Billy says this year’s panto at the Kings “can’t come quick enough”.
“It’s like having a proper job!
“We have the school shows in the mornings so we really have to do a shift.
“When you’re a luvvie you’re usually working at night so you can swan about all day then go to work. This? Nah!
“It reminds me of my days before I was actor when I had a proper job to make a living and had to get up every morning. I’m really looking forward to it and to seeing all the people who come along. They’re like mates really.
“The sad thing is, when I take off the make-up no one really recognises me. Though it’s a double-edged sword, because if I’m rubbish I can say “it wisnae me”!
“The first time I did a panto here in Kirkcaldy, I remember the very first show, I didn’t want to leave the stage. I thought, ‘this is it’.
“When we got the applause at the end I wanted to go again. I was thinking, ‘wow - I’m getting paid for this?’.
“And now there are people who were kids onstage with me who now bring along their own kids to see it. That’s great. I’ve known Sarah (Brown Cooper) and her mum and dad for nearly 20 years now.
“Throughout my acting career I’ve been gifted with working with fellow actors who are all brilliant and they make me look good. That goes for things I’ve been lucky enough to win awards for. It had nothing to do with me, it was the people who were around me who always made it special.
“I’ve been very, very lucky.”
Billy is at pains to point out that though he takes star billing, as far as
he’s concerned it’s a team effort at the Kings – both on and off stage.
“Jonathan always picks a good cast and our group here; Mark, Robin,
Sarah and Kirsty, could carry a show without me. I just come along and
get to play the dame in the middle of it all. They play great characters
anyway. But it is an ensemble.
“There are no stars, we’re all in it together working as hard as we can.
From Paul managing the venue, Lewis on the lights and sound, Scotty
and Martin the set builders, Mandy and the rest of Kings board –
everybody is working towards the same goal.
“We all support each other, and when we’re working I don’t think you’ll
hear anybody say a bad word about another member of staff here.
“We’re one team together and that’s special. We might not be in each other’s pockets and seeing each other every week, but when we meet up again, it’s like it was yesterday."
He adds: “Being part of the panto at the Kings is an absolute privilege.”
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'Laird Callum / The Beast'
Robin MacKenzie is back in his hometown of Kirkcaldy for a third straight year as part of the pantomime cast at the Kings.
Last year’s prince is this year’s Beast as ‘Ya Wee Beauty and The Beastie’ will see Robin team up with his fellow cast members for a month-long run at The Kings.
He says it was initially a love of music that first saw him begin to perform.
“I've always loved music,” he says, “I used to dance around the kitchen when I was a kid.
“I got involved with Burntisland Pipe Band when I was really wee. After that my school put on a musical when I was P4, I was at Kirkcaldy West.
“I auditioned for it and I was given the lead part. I sang a wee solo and I thought to myself, 'actually, I'm not bad at this'. To be honest, I think I also went for it because I fancied some of the girls who were in it!
“So, I thought I was OK at it and just continued to do it after that, then fell in love with it.
“I started off primarily with the singing part of it, then began to love the acting side of it too. When I got to second year at high school I decided this is what I wanted to do.”
Robin says looking back, Kirkcaldy was the perfect place for him to help nurture his raw talent.
“I was very lucky to have grown up in Kirkcaldy having that goal in my head.
“There was Kirkcaldy Youth Music Theatre, Youth Music Theatre Scotland and I was part of the Belle Canto choir.
“There were so many opportunities to sing and perform, and all of them were musicals as well. So, because I had done mainly musicals, musical theatre is what I wanted to do.
“Being part of the industry now, it's still my passion, but there are so many other elements to performance like theatre, plays, TV and film which I'm now trying to be involved in.”
After high school Robin then set out to study his craft.
“I had one year at New College in Lanarkshire doing an HNC in Musical Theatre,
then went on to do my BA in the same subject at the Royal Conservatoire in
“It was a great way to do it. I loved my time at New College. It was in two and a
half days a week, so I got to adapt to living by myself and staying in Glasgow.
“Going to the RCS, I was there 9-5, five days a week. It was intense and some
of the students who hadn't ever lived by themselves struggled to adapt, so I
had it slightly easier because of my college year.
“It was never somewhere I thought I'd end up, but I had a great time.
“I met a lot of great people. The course was small and it had a fourth string
along with acting, singing and dancing, which was musicianship. So, we had
one-on-one music lessons, which was great because a lot of things I go up for now require me to play an instrument.
“I learned a lot. You learn a lot about yourself through socialising and things like that. I think I actually got better at pool than I did at singing!”
Robin was now well on the way to becoming a professional actor, but frustratingly his career came to a halt almost immediately.
“I left in 2020. We'd had our showcase and I got myself an agent, then Covid hit. I graduated and nothing much happened.
“I'd had a few other things in the pipeline which were just dropped. A lot of productions need money and bums on seats beforehand so they can go ahead.
“It was devastating at the time and I felt like I'd lost a lot of momentum, so it was hard.
“I did manage to do a couple of workshop projects over Zoom though which were interesting, so I was lucky and in the last couple of years it's started to pick back up, but even though I graduated in 2020 it doesn't feel like it. I feel like I’m just starting out really.
“This year has been quite hard for me. I was very close to a few things that I really wanted at the beginning of the year. I did a lot of auditions that I was really pleased with, but I didn't quite get what I wanted.
“I've had a busy last few months though. I've been involved in a couple of things; one at the Kings Theatre and one at the National Theatre Scotland, and now I'm busy up until the end of the year.
“I also started giving singing lessons in Kirkcaldy which has been great. I'm learning a lot myself from teaching.”
Having started leaning out more towards musical theatre, Robin says he’s become more and more attracted to the acting side.
“Well, acting and singing - I love both of them, but as an audience member I'd much rather go and see a play than a musical because I find it hard to turn off.
“I've fallen more in love with the telling of the story and performance side of
acting. Sometimes musicals can feel a little bit disingenuous and that can put
me off, but of course others are brilliant and don't do that.
“Panto though, is a very different art form. With a lot of stories you think you
know where they're going, with panto you can play around with it.
“With something like Beauty and The Beast you know the story but you can
just relax and enjoy what's happening on the stage.
“There's a lot of improvisation in panto that you maybe wouldn't see in a
musical - especially a panto involving Billy Mack!
“He likes to keep you on your toes. I've learned not to mess with him when
Making his stage debut alongside Billy Mack in front of his hometown audience, rates as Robin’s career highlight to date.
“I think when we opened at the Kings in 2021, making my professional debut here in Kirkcaldy, with a really great cast, some of whom I'd grown up watching, that was a really special moment for me.
“That's one I'll remember forever. Especially getting to come home to do it and I'd always fancied having a go at it. It looked like great fun.
“I went to it every year with the Scouts at the Adam Smith and it would be Billy as the Dame. I'd be laughing out loud or at least pretending to laugh out loud at the jokes I didn't understand!
“As much fun as it is to then finally get up and do it, it's knackering. Panto is really high energy and that's a big difference from musical theatre, especially in this one.
“You might be off stage for quite a long period of time in a musical, but panto is big and in your face.
“I can't quite put my finger on it but there's just a way of performing panto. There's an art to it and you only understand that by doing it.
“I definitely noticed that I was far more comfortable last year than I was the year before.
“I was taking myself too seriously. I remember saying to Billy once that it was easier for them playing the Dame or the king, they got to be funny and a big caricature whereas I was just playing the straight guy.
“He told me to shut it! He said you're never a straight guy in a panto. I really remember that - panto is its own thing.”
Back together with his fellow cast members for a third year is something
Robin says he’s relishing.
“Getting to work with the same cast for the third year in a row is something
that doesn't happen very often.
“I've built up a relationship with all of them. The little improvs or back and
forths on the stage now come a lot more naturally and an audience can
“It puts them at ease and they enjoy seeing that spark. You do different
things with different cast members.
“It's a great opportunity to get to work with them all again and I'm really
looking forward to it.
“The Kings too is unique. You can look someone right in the eyes when
you're onstage when you're telling a joke and you can't do that in most places.
“It's something you have to work with and when you find ways to do that you can really catch someone off guard and the audience love that. they're laughing because they think it's funny but they're also laughing because they're scared. They're thinking 'please don't pick on me' but that's part of the fun.
“The audience are right in amongst us.”
With little over a month to go before the curtain goes up on opening night, Robin is looking forward to once again taking to the Lang Toun stage.
“We've all got a certain relationship with Kirkcaldy - Mark and Billy have spent years doing panto here.
“It's my town. I'm always going to love coming back and I can't wait to get started on the panto.
“I'll be tired, I'll be exhausted, I'll be annoyed that I can't have a drink at Christmas, but I love it and I wouldn't change it.”
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Graham 'Skoti' Scott
With opening night now just a month away, it's yet another festive period spent in panto for the Kings' Production Manager, Graham Scott.
Graham's long-running relationship with panto began at the end of the last century at the Adam Smith Theatre and with the exception of the enforced break due to the pandemic, he's worked one in Kirkcaldy every year since.
"My first panto that I worked on was Beauty and the Beast at the Adam Smith Theatre in 1999," he says, "James McAvoy was in it.
"I had just started as a stagehand and had been there for around six months.
"It was tough that first year. Really long hours and long days and it was a seven week run.
"I thought it was wondrous, but I also thought this is the only one I'm going to do. I thought I was only going to be there short-term, but I just hung around and here I am 24 years later still doing it!
"I've done a panto every year since, apart from during Covid."
Graham says that he's become aware of how popular and important panto season is to the town.
"I used to be gobsmacked at the amount of buses that were lined up outside the Station Hotel, day after day, night after night and way into the new year. It used to go on until March!
"Originally Alan McHugh was the dame and Jonathan Stone was the director. I did two years with Alan, but then he went to Aberdeen and they started this new guy. They said his name was Billy Mack.
"When he turned up I thought, "how are you going to play the dame?!". He's four foot nothing and Alan was 6'2". How's this going to work?
"But as the panto progressed I thought he was in a different class. That was when panto really started in earnest for me, because before then there was sort of an unwritten law that cast and crew didn't mix.
"They were completely different entities, but I decided I was going to be a sort of hybrid between the two. I got on well with both and soon we just became one big team.
"I liked it so much that I just kept going. This'll be the 20th year that I've worked
"I didn't really appreciate what the panto meant to the town. After four or five
years I realised how important it was. And still is, that's why I'm here."
Come 2021, with the Adam Smith Theatre closed for a refurbishment it looked
as though Kirkcaldy was going to be without its much-loved panto for the first
time in many decades. Then Graham received a phone call.
"When the Adam Smith closed down in 2020 and I was told there wasn't going
to be a panto, I thought "somebody has to do something".
"Then, The Kings got in touch with me and asked if I could get Billy Mack. They
said they were going to put on a panto in the live room. "So I phoned Billy and
asked if he would be interested in doing panto in Kirkcaldy. He said yes straight away, but only if Jonathan directed it.
"So Jonathan came through and had a look at the Kings and said we could do it. I called Billy back to tell him, and he said. "I'm in".
"I thought it was important that we got local actors. I asked Kirsty Strachan and Jonathan got Sarah Brown Cooper and Robin Mackenzie who he had worked with when they were kids.
"Next I called Martin Croft, who had been my boss from day one at the Adam Smith, to ask if he would help me to build the set. Thankfully he said yes, so we were ready to go.
"I thought if we can get this chain reaction going then we can bring together the best panto director in Scotland with the best panto dame in Scotland, and I'm no slouch when it comes to building sets and crewing them.
"If we could get the three of us together, a professional like Kirsty, Robin and Sarah who I've worked with before in the theatre when they were just kids, and I knew they were both brilliant, and I'd also worked with Mark McDonnell before too.
"I knew we had a good company there, we gelled right away, then it became a mission. Kirkcaldy was going to be without a panto for the first time in 50 years, Covid excepted, and I thought "this can't happen".
"All of us, Martin too, realised the importance of putting it on, no matter what, even if it flops.
"But we thought about it without factoring in Covid, which arrived and put a stop to it. But for those 12 or 14 shows it was just phenomenal."
Now Graham faces the Herculean task of building the set for this year's production, which he says is a huge undertaking.
"To be honest, it's easier building a big set on a large stage than it is at The Kings. It's such a challenge because you're working to within millimetres at stage right and left, and if everything isn't spot on there's going to be discrepancies and it's not going to fly properly.
"I'm used to thousands of lanterns, flying gear, lots of scenery, and when we went to the Kings it was different.
"This year is the first time I've built a set from scratch myself. I did a lot of research, looking at old Beauty and the Beast performances online, and looked at how you build a ruined castle.
"I thought I didn't want it to look just painted, I wanted it to look 3D. So I've started with two centimetre thick tiles and modelled them into the shape of bricks . And some of the set is being recycled from last year's.
"We got it looking great over the last two years and this year is going to be even better."
After decades of being an unseen face behind the scenes, Graham then unexpectedly became a much-heard voice when he was drafted in to play Hooter the Owl in 'Ya Wee Sleeping Beauty' and this year he's involved once again, this time as the Mercat!
He says: "I hadn't ever heard my voice over the speakers before and I got a fright. I thought "I sound like a ned from Templehall!", though most folk would say that I am!
"Jonathan had told me that I was going to be an owl, sitting in a tree and talking. I was going to be knitting the plot together. I thought it was going to be a tough one and it was, as this year's will be too.
"I was all over the shop for the first two weeks last year to be honest, but I got there eventually.
"I'm quite happy doing it though, because I've done a bit of acting in the past, so it's not unfamiliar. Plus, I've done over 1000 panto performances. so nothing scares me - except the sound of my Templehall voice booming out over the speakers!"
Graham's long standing relationaship with the panto includes working many
times with director Jonatahn Stone, who he says is the best in the business.
"I think this will be the 23rd panto I've done with Jonathan. He's the best
panto director ever. He's like a human dynamo once he gets started."
"He has some genius flashes when he says "do it this way instead of that
way" and the actor will try it and it'll work.
"He just has a third eye when it comes to panto. He sees things that nobody
else does, which is why I love working with him.
"And he always delivers."
Ultimately, Graham says his love affair with the Lang Toun's annual panto
comes down to one thing - the audience and Kirkcaldy itself..
"Basically I'm doing this because of what it brings to the town," he says, "so yes, it's extremely important that Kirkcaldy maintains its unbroken panto run.
"Now that the other panto is back, we thought, you know what, we really enjoyed that last year. The audience really enjoyed it, the town really enjoyed it, let's do it again.
"The other panto pays a company in England hundreds of thousands of pounds to put theirs on. And the people who do so haven't got a clue about Kirkcaldy and that's reflected in their scripts.
"When it comes to panto it's vital that you put local jokes in, it makes the audience feel attached.
"Jonathan puts lots of local jokes in his scripts and they just jump off the page for me. The script is properly for Kirkcaldy - it's not a generic, homogenised panto written in Coventry. Ours is a proper bespoke, original script with original songs and it's all about, and for, the town.
"That's why I thought I'd get right on board with it."
He added: "And this year, it's going to be even more about Kirkcaldy!