Harlow Playhouse director reflects on last pantomime

Harlow Playhouse / Thu 29th Dec 2016 pm31 08:43pm


AS Harlow Playhouse celebrates it’s biggest Christmas sales to date, we catch up with Scott Ramsay on his last Festive Season as Director of Harlow Playhouse.

Scott, what productions have you staged this Christmas?

We’ve staged three productions. Santa’s Rusty Robot for children under 7, Work Play for adults, and Beauty and the Beast as our annual pantomime. We’re fortunate to have two theatres, so we can cope with multiple productions on the run up to Christmas, and to continue growing our audience. Over twenty thousand people will visit this year. What’s particularly lovely this year is the number of people rebooking to see Beauty and the Beast for a second time, and writing to tell us it’s been their favourite.

The Playhouse has a strong reputation for panto. What do you think are the key elements that make it so popular?

We do a lot of research into the history of each title as a pantomime, and always apply the traditions of pantomimes and extravaganzas. We tend to take a more expansive approach to our pantomimes, at a time where most have become quite derivative. What’s interesting is that the public will often think we’re being innovative, when actually we’re drawing on older traditions and routines that have been forgotten. That’s not to say that we aren’t innovative, especially where special effects are concerned. A lot of effort and investment goes into each show.

So, have you taken the same approach with Beauty and the Beast this year?

Yes, absolutely. It has a 200-year-old history as a pantomime and our job is to frame that, not a watered down version of the nineties animated film, which is considerably different. What will surprise people is that for much of its theatre history, Beauty and the Beast was set in the Orient, much like Aladdin, and then switched to England. It’s much more expansive than people realise. The two Eighteenth Century French novels, which were frequently used as source materials for films are very dark and not child-friendly.

When I started writing family shows in the nineties, children’s theatre and literature had yet to take off to the extent we enjoy today. Writers then increased the work that fed children’s appetites for complex and sophisticated stories, and stories such as J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series took off. At the Playhouse, we very much promote the idea that all our audiences should be surprised, while keeping our theatre traditions afloat. Spoon-feeding what people think they already know isn’t healthy.

What plans do you have for the future?

I’ll be leaving the Playhouse as Director in February, however I have four family shows in production for 2017, including a pantomime version of Peter Pan, which will play at Harlow Playhouse next year. Peter Pan’s a more recent addition to the pantomime world, having been introduced at the start of the Twentieth Century, and is hugely popular.

I’ll also be reworking my award-nominated version of The Phoenix and the Carpet, which has toured extensively around the UK. It’s also set in Edwardian London, and has some similarities with Peter Pan. Harlow Playhouse will also be staging another Santa show for under-7s, written by fellow Scots writer Iain Lauchlan, who writes for the likes of Justin’s House and The Tweenies.

Beauty and the Beast runs at Harlow Playhouse until the 4th January. Visit www.harlowplayhouse.co.uk for more information.

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