Dundee Rep's new artistic director on 'magical place'.
As Dundee Rep Theatre’s new Fife-raised artistic director Andrew Panton takes up his post, he tells Michael Alexander of his ambition to further the work of the theatre’s award-winning Ensemble
He has worked in Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum and Perth theatres and was responsible for directing the famous dancing Tunnocks teacake segment of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games opening ceremony.
However, Fife-raised Andrew Panton says it is his new role as artistic director of Dundee Rep Theatre that fulfils a lifelong ambition.
The former pupil of Burntisland Primary and Balwearie High School, Kirkcaldy, has been coming to see shows at the “magical” Rep since he was a young boy.
And he vividly remembers the day when, as a 10-year-old, he told his parents he would like to run the theatre.
“When I think about coming to Dundee as a child I loved it,” says the 43-year-old. “It had that charm and was a bit rough around the edges. To me they spoke funny – which is very rich being a Fifer.
“But Dundee Rep was always a magical place to me. It had that vibe – and still does.
“So, taking up this post really has been a dream come true.”
The Rep is the only theatre in Scotland with a permanent full-time company of actors and Andrew feels the venue deserves wider recognition across the UK and internationally for the quality of its artists and productions.
“At the moment Dundee feels to me like a city that is reaching out to the rest of not just Scotland and the UK but it’s shouting to the world and saying ‘look we are cool, we are great at what we do’,” he says.
“That’s very much what I feel about the next episode for the Rep and for the Ensemble – to let people know about the work that we do.”
Andrew is well-known to Dundee audiences, having directed the Ensemble in Love Song to critical acclaim last year.
He was previously assistant director for the National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch, director of the Mill Lavvies and movement director for Sweeney Todd.
It’s apt, however, that when The Courier caught up with him this week, he was in New York to further the Rep’s international reputation.
“I’m directing a development workshop of a new piece about Stanley Robertson, who was the last of and one of the most prolific storytellers of the travelling people in the North-East of Scotland,” he reveals.
“It just happens it’s a Broadway producer that’s got the rights to the story so it’s kind of ironic I’ve had to travel over here to develop a story that’s pretty much about our neck of the woods – but I’m not complaining.”
He regards the Ensemble as the “engine room” of the Rep and wants to raise the profile of the creative learning department, who he says “consistently go above and beyond” with youth theatre work.
He also wants to expand and consolidate the “phenomenal” visiting programme of work.
With the first season for the autumn to be announced on May 27, Andrew promises an “ambitious and engaging programme”, including Scottish premieres, musical theatre and storytelling using live music and movement.
However, he adds: “In any postindustrial city you’ve got the side the tourist board will tell you about and you’ve got the other side as well. I think Dundee is not alone in having all those issues and problems.
“We do a lot of work through the Rep community learning department with particularly deprived areas, making sure we are not creating elitist work.
“We also keep an eye on our prices to make sure that if people want to engage with the work, the financial side should not be a barrier.
“I’m actually engaged in talking about doing a piece in the next couple of years which is about the homelessness problem in Dundee. These are issues we should not ignore.”
Andrew Panton outside Dundee Rep, where he intends to share his passion for making sure the world knows about the theatre’s own Ensemble.