Brian Beacom

THERE comes a point in a man’s life when he reaches a certain age and he wonders if he’s valid any more.

His young work colleague reckons he can do the job better. Differently. He’s certainly cocky.

But the older man can’t cope with this attack on his very being, all the years he’s put in suddenly counting for nothing.

Bitterness, jealousy and rage; that’s the theme of It’s Behind You.

And Alan McHugh is perfectly placed to write this new play which opens the new season of A Play, Pie and a Pint at Glasgow’s Oran Mor.

Alan is an actor and a panto veteran with 14 years in Aberdeen’s His Majesty’s to his credit.

The play is set backstage at a panto and features Norrie and Nicky – played by former River City star Paul James Corrigan - who have been a double act for 15 years.

“The younger man’s star is on the rise and that of the older man, Norrie, on the wain,” says Alan smiling.

“We join them when they come back to their dressing room after a show.

“The older man complains his partner has been messing up routines, trying to upstage him, stealing gags.”

Alan adds; “But it’s not really about panto. The two characters are in panto but they could be plumbers or two guys who work in an insurance company. It’s more about the power battles between them.

“It’s all about status. The older guy has been in the business so long he feels he knows it all, and to a certain extent he does.

“But the younger guy is also in a television show and thinks he has his own audience who are coming in to see him.

“Meanwhile, Norrie, hasn’t been on television for a few years.”

It’s about clinging on. It’s about getting respect. It’s also a tale of fragility.

“Norrie is living a tightrope. People in the street say to him; ‘Didn’t you used to be someone?’ Meantime, it’s his partner who gets asked to do the interviews, asked for the selfies.”

Alan is certainly writing about a world he knows. Not that he has an on-going feud with Jordan, who happens to be a star of River City and Scotsquad.

“He’s my best pal but we do joke about the relationship,” says Alan, smiling.

“I’ll say to him ‘Who do you think you are, just ‘cos you’re on the telly?’ That sort of thing.

“But just as Norrie and Nicky replay their performance in the dressing room to work out what went wrong, Jordan and me do this too. We try and cut and improve all the time to get the timing right.”

He adds, smiling; “Comedy is all about mathematics. This plus this equals laughs. And it’s a case of working hard to get as many laughs as possible.”

Yet, while Alan isn’t made to feel like yesterday’s man in his own panto life, he grins as he admits a young star has cast him into the shadows.

“My daughter is an actress,” he says, smiling. “And it won’t be too long before I’m seen as Shona McHugh’s da. “When you have a 22 year-old who is in London right now and with the same agency as James McAvoy you start to think it’s now their time.

“But I don’t mind although I know a lot of actors who would.”

Alan can afford to be sanguine about the spotlight shifting in the direction of youth.

As well as being a panto star, he’s also the UK’s most prolific panto writer.

Alan works for Qdos, the company which produces pantos for the likes of the King’s, the Clyde Auditorium and His Majesty’s Aberdeen.

“I’m very fortunate,” he says. “Most actors have to have another string to their bow, working in pubs, B&Q or call centres. There isn’t enough acting work to go round so writing is perfect for me.

“And once a theatre show is up and running it offers time to write.”

This year he is working on an incredible 31 pantos this year for Qdos.

“That’s not writing 32 pantos from scratch,” he says, grinning.

“Some of them will be adaptations. For example, I may write the Cinderella for Birmingham and adapt that for Bristol, Liverpool Aberdeen, Belfast and Llandudno. So sixty per cent of the work is done.

“Then I have to regionalise it, make it topical and fit the actors who a set to be starring in it.”

He adds, with a mock sigh; “I only have to write four or five from scratch.”

That’s still an incredible task each year.

“I’m already on to my second panto this year,” he says. “We have a synopsis for Aladdin at the Kings. I wrote a first draft December. And all the first drafts have to be in for July.”

Panto writing came about when asked to play Dame at Kirkcaldy.

But it was an off-the-shelf English script that wasn’t funny. Alan suggested writing the Dame’s part.

“I asked if I could rewrite the Dame’s scenes to make them funny and localised. And it went down a bomb.

“I did the same the following year and by the next year I was commissioned to writing the panto from scratch.”

The word spread. And here he is.

“Yes, my life’s a panto. Literally and figuratively. My head is full of it and sometimes I get my Sleeping Beauties and my Belles mixed up.

“The way I write is I can only deal with one panto at a time or I would go mad.”

What’s astonishing is that 90 per cent of the pantos in the UK are written in a bungalow in Clarkston.

“I sit in my wee office from seven am until seven at night. It’s the only way to do it.”

“I’m not going to complain. I’ve got pals out of work three months.”

He adds, smiling; “Panto has been very good to me.”

*It’s Behind You, Oran Mor, until Saturday.