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Aberdeen Panto King Alan McHugh bringing something new with Sleeping Beauty at HMT

Tanks and unscripted tangents - it seems this year's Sleeping Beauty is not the tale as we know it.

This year's cast in costume for HMT's panto Sleeping Beauty at the theatre in Aberdeen.
There are many recognisable faces in this year's cast for HMT's panto Sleeping Beauty. Image: Darrell Benns/ DC Thomson.

Writer, director and actor are just some of the titles pantomime extraordinaire Alan McHugh can claim.

And after writing 23 original pantomime scripts alone this year, I think he can rightfully add expert festive fairytale juggler to his Rapunzel-length CV.

His script writing title is one of his various hats he wears all year round – usually beginning afresh in February.

However last year he didn’t even wait until then.

Between a December matinee and evening show in Aberdeen, he was already scribbling down ideas for this year with colleagues.

Alan McHugh at HMT in Aberdeen
Alan McHugh is one of Aberdeen’s most prolific pantomime writers and stars. Image: Richard Frew Photography.

“It’s like the old thing of painting the old Forth Rail Bridge,” Alan joked – as anyone familiar with his work will know he is prone to do.

“As soon as you finish last year’s, you start this year’s.”

It is his witty writing for all ages and memorable performances as Dame that have made him synonymous with many people’s Christmas celebrations in and around Aberdeen over the years.

Tends to ‘road test’ material for panto on honest Aberdonains

Although when writing Alan is using well-known fairytales, it would be a mistake to call them well-worn old chestnuts.

Instead the Glaswegian makes every effort to bring the local craic, banter and rivalries into every script from Aberdeen to Belfast to Dartmouth.

Thankfully it is a task that has got easier as technology has evolved.

He said: “Back when I first was involved in writing pantos you used to have to try and phone up people.

Photo of the main cast of Beauty And The Beast, the HMT panto. Pictured - PJ Corrigan (top), Laura Main, Danielle Jam, Alan McHugh and Joyce Falconer.
Alan McHugh said the internet has saved him a lot of phone calls. Image: Kami Thomson/ DC Thomson

“I knew about Glasgow, I knew about Edinburgh but the far flung places, you’d have to find somebody, who knew somebody, who knew somebody who would take the time to give you some local info.

“However, since the birth of the internet, everything is all just a click away.”

Talking about the Broch, Espionage Nightclub, The Ashvale chipper, Pittodrie, Aberdeen vs Dundee, Alan said every UK city has the equivalent and it all can make great fodder to get those laughs.

But just to make sure, he tends to “road test” the Scottish scripts and has a very honest team of old friends and colleagues in Aberdeen who are not afraid to critique and offer suggestions.

Trying something very new with Gary Tank Commander

This year, a cast of well-known faces will be bringing Sleeping Beauty to His Majesty’s Theatre (HMT).

Julie Coombe, who played a baddie in Alan’s first Aberdeen panto in 2004, is back with claws as Carabosse while comic actor and River City star Paul J Corrigan, Aberdeen’s Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning star Danielle Jam and Aberdonian Michael Karl-Lewis are also marking a return.

 Julie Coombe as Carabosse snarling at the camera.
Julie Coombe is returning as the baddie as Carabosse. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson

The fairytale was last brought to Aberdeen nearly seven years ago but this year, they are doing something a McHugh original has not braved before.

And it is being brought in the form of a different McHugh.

“We’re delighted to have Greg McHugh as Gary the Tank Commander,” said Alan.

“Greg in the character of Gary is something just something completely different.

“Because we’ve never actually had somebody playing a character like that.”

Greg will be playing as his character of Gary from the BAFTA award-winning Scottish sitcom Gary: Tank Commander throughout the whole performance.

And Alan admits they are having a lot of fun with it.

Greg McHugh as Gary Tank Commander.
Greg McHugh as Gary Tank Commander. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson.

He added: “It’s been challenging but it’s been great fun trying to incorporate a character called Gary Tank Commander into the script as my daft boy.

“He makes his first entrance in a tank so that nails our colours to the mast right from the start. And then downhill from there.”

Although the story of Sleeping Beauty comes with its own challenges – namely one of the main characters falling asleep at the end of act one – Greg and Alan could be adding their own set of personal and entertaining tests to the mix.

Chuckling, Alan said: “I can’t wait for it. Both of us can talk rubbish at the drop of a hat.

“Whatever he says, I’m ready to run with and whatever I say, he’s ready to run with as well.

“If something happens that we go off on a tangent, an audience can tell and they go away delighted thinking that they’d seen something another audience hasn’t.

“I have no doubt that’s going to happen with most shows actually which is going to be great fun.”

The cast pictured outside HMT in Aberdeen.
Alan said the cast and theatre staff always strive to make sure people have a magical time at the panto. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson

‘We’ve set a high bar and each year we try to go higher’

Alan performed his first panto in 1991 and has been tweaking and script writing since playing dame in Mother Goose at the Adam Smith Theatre in Kirkcaldy nearly 30 years ago.

While he said he might not feel pressure anymore, the responsibility of ensuring audiences leave with a gleam in their eyes never goes away.

He said: “The theatre, the cast, the regulars, we’ve set a high bar and it’s not a pressure of being scared to fail and not top that bar, it’s the responsibility of trying to get over the bar the following year.

“It’s not the pressure, it’s a responsibility of putting 100% into every word I type and everything I do on stage to give these people the best night out we possibly can.

“Our job is to take them out of any issues and problems for a couple of hours and put a smile on their face and make life a wee bit better.

“That’s what panto – does along with the community aspect – better than anything that’s out there I think.”

Sleeping Beauty will be at His Majesty’s Theatre from Saturday December 2 to Sunday January 7. For tickets and information visit or call 01224 641122.

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