Glasgow Clyde College’s Christmas panto crew became a family while chasing their dreams

a group of people standing on a stage
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The closely-knit ensemble of actors based at the Clyde College’s Langside campus differs in age and background. What unites them is the unapologetic love for acting, the addictive rush they feel on stage, and the urge to share both with their audience; this time, through a pantomime performance Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. 

An on and off-stage family

You’re hit with a strong presence the moment you step into the rehearsal room dominated by a light-wood grand piano. A group of roughly 30 people is sitting in front of it, ready to pull you into their artistic world. Though each of them possesses a distinct personality of their own, it’s the energy they give off as a collective that immediately surrounds you.

Becca Leitch, cast as one of two Snow Whites, fondly describes the crew sitting around her as a “big family”. Although she receives some harmless teasing in return, a delighted smile sits on everyone’s face.

At the heart of the original fairytale, there is also a family – although a rather dysfunctional one. It consists of self-centred Queen Helliona who constantly bullies her pretty stepdaughter Snow White, her disengaged King husband, and a group of moody dwarves.

The cast was divided into two groups due to the large number of students, meaning some of them had to be double-cast
Source: Leandro Daniel

Yet, the energy oozing from the giggling crew is far from dysfunctional. On the contrary, it fills the large room and the bodies of those present with warmth. “Acting with these people, getting to know that you can call them family; doing what you love with the people you love, is the best feeling in the world,” says Ryan Murray (Jock).

The sense of comradery everyone speaks of becomes tangible when Charlie Summers, double-cast as King and Doc, walks into the centre of the room to lead Vista – their pre-performance cheer. The heart-stopping act leaves its listeners electrified with a wave of adrenaline. “I wish I could be part of this,” comes to their mind.

Vista recorded during our interview
Created by Andrea Racekova

Shared love for acting

Watching them perform Vista and listening to the endearing comments they make about their craft, it doesn’t come as a big surprise that each member of the crew adores acting. For many students though, especially the older ones, the journey to make their dream come true hasn’t been straightforward.

“You’re not lying about the house all year,” said Graeme Cawley’s mother to him after his 2007 application for this course wasn’t successful. The 32-year-old who plays Dolly and one of two parts of Hercules the Horse’s body, spent 8 years studying engineering and working as a taxi driver.

Being arguably the most assertive person in the room and constantly making everyone around him laugh, his admission to the course a few years ago played an important part in bringing the crew closer.  

Graeme shares the horse-suit and the character of Dolly with Nicholas Brennan. Incidentally, Nicholas’ path to acting resembles Graeme’s. Although he loved drama since childhood, he diverted from it in high-school and ended up doing various jobs before recently returning to it: “I’ve just loved every minute of it since – I don’t want to do anything else.”

Other crew members explaining why they decided to pursue acting
Created by Andrea Racekova

Several ‘um-hums’ of approval can be heard when Snow White’s second version, Evelyn Daly, explains the important role this acting course has played in her career: “You’re allowed to do trial and error and you don’t need to feel bad or embarrassed about it.” Evelyn believes such a “safe space” produces the confidence necessary for performing in front of hundreds of strangers. “Especially when the people who are there with you really encourage you to keep going with it.”

Craig Howie, another incarnation of Doc, seconds Evelyn’s belief, adding that “of course you can go get (acting jobs), but this is a course that takes you from the beginning and produces something in the end.”

Children on the stage, children in the audience

Craig continues by addressing the ‘horse in the room’: “There will be children who want to do acting” sitting in the audience of their pantomime play. For many of these students, it was the exposure to this festive tradition at an early age which made them fall in love with drama. “I grew up and I saw the King’s Theatre’s pantomime and that got me into acting,” he says.

Similarly going down the childhood memory lane is Vista’s leader Charlie, who remembers attending pantomime with his primary school classmates before Christmas. ‘There is a wee wain inside you that’s getting to do it for the kids who are seeing it. It’s a bit surreal to be the one giving that experience to someone.”

As the whole assemblage nods in agreement, Matthew Jack who plays the Mirror explains that they all prefer to perform in front of children: “They’re just so up for supporting you, so that you can then get back to them what you are giving in.” He thinks it allows the characters to be stereotypical and playful, enabling those underneath the costumes and make-up to better bring the story to life.

people standing on a stage in costumes
For many of the actors, their love for drama stems from attending pantomime performances based on well-known fairytales
Source: David Lee-Michael

Craig puts the crew’s motivation and goal into words at the end of the session. “The things that got me into acting are present at this pantomime with the people I’m working with. If the children come to see it, it’s good to show them a future they can go to. It will show them what they can achieve, and that it is achievable.”   

By the end of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, a little bit of love and a big pile of humour transform the evil Queen Helliona into a person capable of affection – the unthinkable becomes a reality.

In a similar way, this group of Glasgow Clyde College students proves that any dream, no matter how difficult or unrealistic, can become reality if it’s fuelled by genuine passion, hard work and love. The hope they represent is infectious, making everyone sitting in the room feel like they can accomplish anything they want.

At the end of the day, pantomime is mainly about reserving a few hours for our loved ones to have a jolly time. So is this play – enacted with love by actors who have become a family during the making of it. 

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