If a pantomime can be relied upon for one thing, it’s a happy ending.
Now one of Scotland’s most historic theatres is hoping its Christmas panto can provide a similar outcome for the venue’s long-term future.
From temporary closure to multiple funding cuts, the Gaiety Theatre in Ayr hasn’t had its troubles to seek over the past decade.
But the 117-year-old B-listed building, which has seen legends like Billy Connolly, Ken Dodd and Barbara Windsor tread its boards, has invested heavily in its annual Christmas show in a bid to secure a prosperous New Year.
Rather than pay an external company to produce its panto, which negates some of the risks involved in putting on a large-scale production, the Gaiety’s board has decided to do it all in-house for the first time since reopening in 2012.
Rave reviews are leading to strong ticket sales, and the Gaiety hopes a successful panto will lead to not only a firm financial footing, but to help in future bids for funding from organisations like Creative Scotland, which cut its financial ties with the theatre nearly two years ago, as well as to secure more productions throughout the year.
Jeremy Wyatt is the chief executive of the Ayr Gaiety Partnership, which owns and runs the theatre. He oversees the nine full-time members of staff and more than 100 local volunteers who keep the 584- capacity theatre operating.
“Since early 2018, when we lost the Creative Scotland funding, it’s been a real battle,” he admitted. “We’ve had to make cuts, compromise on various things, increase charges, and reduce the breadth of the programme.
“We had a studio theatre which we had to close because there weren’t enough seats for it to be viable.
“It’s been tough, but all the way through we said we would make the commitment that something special was happening here, and since panto is the biggest thing, let’s put that at the top of the list. There were some risks involved because there was more work to be done, and if we were going to increase the quality of what we do, it follows that costs increase.
“When we are doing it ourselves, we have to pay it all out and then hope the money comes in to cover it.
“Previously, we would get a percentage when working with another company. If you don’t do well in sales, you share the pain, but this time we had to pay all the money out and then see how it goes.
“So far, the reaction has been very positive, with audiences saying it’s the best panto here since the days of Johnny Beattie. Word of mouth is spreading and that’s feeding in to ticket sales, but it’ll be a couple of weeks before we can tell.”
The result of all the hard work is Jack And The Beanstalk, starring Scot Squad actors Karen Bartke and Chris Forbes, River City’s Gavin Jon Wright and Kirsty Malone from the Sunshine On Leith musical.
Jeremy continued: “Panto is a very important part of the programme for two reasons. It’s what an awful lot of people want to come and see, and it accounts for a substantial amount of income. The Gaiety has a stellar history and iconic status and we feel we have to re-establish the reputation it used to have.”
Jack And The Beanstalk, Gaiety Theatre, Ayr, until Jan 5
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