Panto king Alan Takes time out to act

ALAN McHugh laughs as he announces there's a danger of going mad.

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Alan McHugh, far right, with Play, Pie & A Pint co-stars Anne Kidd, Libby McArthur, and Finlay McLean. Picture: Colin Templeton
Alan McHugh, far right, with Play, Pie & A Pint co-stars Anne Kidd, Libby McArthur, and Finlay McLean. Picture: Colin Templeton

But it's a madness most performers would be delighted to experience.

The actor, a regular on The Limmy Show and who once played the village bobby in High Road, is currently one of the quartet launching the new Oran Mor plays series, with relationship comedy, Only The Lonely.

However, Alan, who lives in the South Side of Glasgow, has another string to his bow.

He's a playwright (he co-wrote the Susan Boyle play, I Dreamed a Dream) and the king of Scotland's panto writers.

He wrote the Aberdeen panto at His Majesty's starring Elaine C Smith (as well as appearing as Dame), the Barrowman/Krankies panto at the SECC, and scripts for Kirkcaldy, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and Perth Rep.

"I'm already working on this season's pantos," he says.

"It's crazy. Madness. But then I'd never complain about being too busy. I've got pals who have been out of work for the past six months, so I know what it's like in this business."

But it's hard to get your head round five different pantos, providing storylines, gags, set routines for each theatre.

"It's a Forth Road bridge sort of job," he offers. "And you can't just swap the pantos around the different theatres; each theatre has its own style, its own audience. You can do a little bit of cut and paste, but even though I've already written a Mother Goose, the one I'm now writing for Perth has to be adapted especially for the theatre."

Yet, panto writing, and indeed appearing in panto, is a labour of love.

"I've done a panto every year since leaving drama college in 1991, and it's great," he says. "I've played Dame for the past 19 years. I guess it's a medium I understand, though it's hard to explain why my writing seems to work."

He adds, grinning: "If I could bottle it I would sell it."

And save himself an awful lot of time. Instead, he flips up the laptop lid in January and doesn't close it until the first day of rehearsals in November."

Alan, a father-of-two, still considers his main job to be acting and he couldn't turn down the chance to appear in Only The Lonely.

Written by Ann Marie di Mambro it tells the story of a father/daughter and a mother/son relationship.

Diane, (Libby McArthur) is a fifty-something who can't hold down a relationship and her dad Tony (Finlay McLean), a broken hearts doctor.

Meanwhile, Jim (Alan) is a lost soul who can't cope with the real world and hides behind his elderly mother Sadie's apron, (Anne Kidd) and likes to believe his mother needs looking after.

BUT Sadie would rather be chasing trouser whenever the opportunity emerges.

The play reveals what happens when the couples come together.

"I worked on Ann Marie's stories before," says Alan, rewinding on plays such as Tally's Blood and indeed di Mambro's work on High Road. I really like her writing and I love this story about how people's lives connect. It's very, funny."

As a writer himself, Alan brings a forensic eye to the role.

He says: "A lot of actors may look at a script and think, 'That line would be better if I change it . . .' but as writer, and someone who knows Ann Marie, I know the effort she's put into the work. And you know that line didn't happen by accident; that line is there for a reason."

What about the professional schizophrenia? When the writing commissions are flooding in does he feel slightly left out as an actor?

And when he's working in theatre, does he feel he should be at the laptop coming up with a section for The Krankies?

"It's all about juggling," he says, grinning. "But I'll always accept the acting work. And once a theatre show, for example, is on the road you have the days free to write.

"Even when I come here to work, from Clarkston to the West End, the 63 bus takes about an hour, so I can write on that."

Being an actor not only informs his writing, it makes him keener to do a better job.

"When I'm up there on stage in panto I can see the audience who have paid £25 a ticket to come and see a show.

"So every time I write I try to make it the best thing I've ever written."

l Only The Lonely, Oran Mor, until Saturday.

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