Behind the curtains of the old lady of Bath Street

10th December 2004 at 00:00
IT'S BEHIND YOU!: 100 years of the King's Theatre. People's Palace and Winter Gardens, Glasgow until April 10. tel 0141 271 2951. page to stage production workshops for S5. February 7-11. tel 0141 565 4112

100 not out: it is a notable run for the King's Theatre in Glasgow and the shows go on. Deedee Cuddihy finds out more at an anniversary exhibition

Even someone who has never been to a pantomime - which is unlikely if you were brought up in the UK - will be familiar with the expression: "It's behind you!". And that is the highly appropriate title of an exhibition at the People's Palace museum in Glasgow to mark the 100th anniversary of the city's famed King's Theatre.

Patron of the centenary celebrations is actress and national treasure Elaine C. Smith, who stars in this year's King's Theatre panto Mother Goose, which is opening tonight for a six-week run. ("Oh, no it isn't!"

"Oh, yes it is!") The King's Theatre box office reports that school trips to the pantomime are as popular as ever, with tickets for the special schools' 10am performances having sold out six months ago. The programme notes describe Elaine C. Smith as "sheer poultry in motion" as Mother Goose, a single parent who is trying to raise her daughters, Gertie and Gwendolyne, "without a feather figure".

Although "It's behind you!" touches on several aspects of panto, it is not the only focus of this centenary exhibition, which was produced by Glasgow Museums in collaboration with the theatre and has led to the creation of a permanent King's Theatre collection for the city.

It is a beautifully designed exhibition, with a mini stage complete with velvet curtains, brass rails and a short row of real theatre seats from which visitors can watch Standing Room Only (boom, boom!), a fascinating film about the heyday of variety theatre in Scotland. Made by Scottish Television in 1985, it opens with a rousing version of "There's no Business like Show Business" and is narrated by the late Jimmy Logan, who appeared in 29 shows at the King's Theatre between 1962 and 1995. It features Harry Lauder, Will Fyfe and a host of tap dancers, plate spinners and small performing animals.

The rest of the compact exhibition has been divided into easily digested chunks covering the origins of the theatre in Bath Street, the stars who have appeared there over the years, the sets and costumes and what goes on behind the scenes.

The King's Theatre was one of 80 across the UK designed by the architect Frank Matcham in an elaborate Italian Renaissance style aimed at transporting people to another world.

For many years, interval refreshments were served to the audience in their seats, with tea and coffee in pink china cups being passed down the line by attendants "and not a drop ever spilled", it is claimed.

Theatre programmes during the Second World War carried air raid protection notices, warning patrons to "always keep your respirator handy" and reminding them that "you are much safer in the theatre than in the street".

The theatre has 14 dressing rooms, including two reserved for "stars", which have been occupied by internationally renowned performers such as Michael Caine, Lawrence Olivier and Katherine Hepburn. A typical actor's dressing room table has been recreated for the exhibition, set out with make up, good luck cards, herbal teas and extra-strength throat tablets.

Even in these high tech times, theatre directors expect stage designers to come up with scale models of the sets they intend to produce, and these can take up to six months to make.

No theatre exhibition would be complete without costumes and those on display at the People's Palace include a Stanley Baxter panto gown, a replica Francie and Josie suit and a fabulous Mother Goose headdress.

Artist Laura Cameron-Jackson was in residency at the King's Theatre during 1996 and her large-scale pastel pictures of life behind the scenes are also on show.

The King's Theatre education department offers workshops and sessions through the year. Karen Townsend, tel 0141 240 1309 email www.theambassadors.comkingseducation

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