Secrets of panto magic are revealed

THIS is the world of the theatre, and I have wanted to find out what happens when panto season arrives.

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  • Reporter Matty Sutton goes backstage at the Pavilion. Pictures: Nick Ponty
    Reporter Matty Sutton goes backstage at the Pavilion. Pictures: Nick Ponty
  • Reporter Matty Sutton goes backstage at the Pavilion. Pictures: Nick Ponty
  • Reporter Matty Sutton goes backstage at the Pavilion. Pictures: Nick Ponty
  • Reporter Matty Sutton goes backstage at the Pavilion. Pictures: Nick Ponty
  • Reporter Matty Sutton goes backstage at the Pavilion. Pictures: Nick Ponty
  • Reporter Matty Sutton goes backstage at the Pavilion. Pictures: Nick Ponty

As I discovered, Scott Gordon, senior technician and stage manager at The Pavilion in Glasgow, is one of the magic makers.

I joined the team just days before the theatre premiered this year's production of The New Magical Adventures Of Pinocchio.

"This is the final push," says Scott, 27, as soon as we are through the door.

"Work started nine months ago and the previous theatre show finished on Saturday night, so now we have a rush of intense preparation."

Around us, dozens of boxes of all kinds of sweets imaginable are being delivered and workmen, actors, cleaners and technicians are bustling around.

It is clear lots of things need to be done before more than 1400 people pile into the stalls on opening night.

"Pantos are really good shows to do. It is a great atmosphere, really fun," says Scot, who is the son of the Pavilion manager, Iain, 60.

Scott and his family, including brother Jamie, 29, who is the theatre accountant, are absorbed in the world of make believe from dawn until dusk.

Christmas dominates every single day of the year for these guys, as planning for the panto starts immediately after the last show finishes in January.

But the final prep is Scott's favourite bit because Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year.

He says: "You get to know everyone who is in it. You also get a good laugh with the cast and dancers."

His main role on the night is lighting and he sits up the back looking out over the stage with an enormous dashboard of buttons to control every technical aspect of the show.

It is a job he has been involved with since he was 16, when his dad would let him sit with him to oversee the show.

Next to some of the buttons are words like "dry ice" and "snow" which, when pressed, fire snow over the audience, or jets of real flames up from the stage.

"We didn't use the snow one year and we got loads of letters of complaints, so now we always put it in - even if it is ridiculous, we always use it," says Scott, from Clarkston.

As we work on fixing tube lights to a big staircase, covered in paintings of clowns, which is used for one of the circus scenes, Scott is called to sort out a problem.

While he chats to a contortionist who needs her picture taken for the programme, two men lift a giant shark covered in bubble wrap on to a high shelf at the corner of the stage.

In the middle, the joiner is drilling, sawing and hammering away at a 14ft frame that will soon hold 14 LED television screens.

During the show, they will flash with water, flames or even the beating heart of the inside of the whale that swallows the characters.

Out front, a team of cleaners are busy sweeping, mopping and polishing every inch of the 109-year-old theatre.

Down below, a mechanical monkey and a toucan are on charge, waiting to be brought to life in Mr Geppetto's workshop.

Among Scott's many talents is controlling Tex the toucan, and one year he spent a season controlling the eyes and mouth of a magical tree.

In the orchestra pit, a low ceilinged space with no natural light, buried deep under the stage, is where Iain has heard the footsteps of the theatre 'ghost'.

Despite the rumours, he remains uncertain whether supernatural forces are at play in the Pavilion.

He takes me down there to check the wiring for the drum kit, which is part of a three piece live band who liven up the panto.

Scott, who works 12-hour days in the run-up to Christmas, said: "We hear noises but it could be anything. You sit downstairs and hear footsteps on the stage and then you come up and there is nobody there.

"It's probably just somebody winding you up or some other explanation."

Most of this year's set has come out of storage from when they did the same panto four years ago.

The set, lighting, sounds and special effects - much of which is purpose built and designed for the production and is worth hundreds of thousands of pounds - is all constructed for the enjoyment of the young audience.

Pinocchio is a particularly popular show, Scott says, because only a couple of theatres in the whole of the UK do it.

And the Pavilion has certainly had some fun bringing it to life.

After I question what appears of be an enormous set of teeth stacked up behind the stage, Scott pulls out his phone and shows me a picture of a 10ft pair of blow-up lips with a tongue, fashioned into a slide, coming from it.

Nearby is a wooden box with 'Whale Pump' emblazoned across it. This, I am informed, is how the baddies attempt to escape from the belly of the whale after Pinocchio and his pals make their exit.

This part of the set is new for the year, one of the many "improvements" the team have been making to make the show even more exciting for children this Christmas.

As always, it looks set to be a fantastic experience for children and adults of all ages.

Just looking at all the bizarre and surreal stuff scattered across the stage is exciting, but as I turn to face the seating and imagine all the thousands of faces staring down at me, my stomach turns.

Scott assures me nothing has ever gone wrong so far and that preparation is everything.

I still would not want to be on that stage, but I will be buying my ticket for the show … especially as I am guaranteed to see the snow.


Arts and Entertainment

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