ALAN Mc Hugh has a busy year ahead. As soon as he finishes playing Nurse Nellie MacDuff in Snow White up in Aberdeen, he'll be working on a whopping 34 pantomimes for next year - including the Alhambra one.

As a writer for Qdos Entertainment, the world's biggest pantomime producer, Alan has scripted countless pantos, running across the UK over the festive period and beyond. "We've already started working on next year's Alhambra panto," says Alan. "It's a year-long process."

With Aladdin, which ends at the Alhambra this weekend, Alan worked with director Ed Curtis and Qdos MD Michael Harrison, then panto king Billy Pearce added his own material. "He's a genius," says Alan. "Watching him in action is incredible."

So, apart from Billy, what makes a good panto? "Local reference goes down well. I do my research - the internet is a wonderful thing. Football team rivalry usually works."

Panto has moved on since the days when audiences fidgeted their way through dreary love duets. What do today's audiences expect? "It's not cheap to take a family to the panto, and people want to see where their money has gone. We have a duty of care to make it the best show it can be," says Alan. "As well as 'He's behind you' and 'Oh no you won't' there has to be a fast-paced show that keeps children's attention. Panto has to keep pace with the times, otherwise the tradition will die out. The great acid test is the kids' response. With panto, we either get them for life, or we lose them."

He adds: "The script is layered; I hate smut in panto but kids love vulgarity, and there has to be a level aimed at adults too. My job is to get the balance right."

Alan did his first panto while a student at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. "As an actor, it employed all my skills, including reacting to the audience," he says. "There's a snobbery about panto, but that comes from people who don't understand it. It requires skill and energy. It's not like working in an office where you can occasionally switch off or put your feet up if you don't feel well. Kids don't care if you have a cold - you have to get yourself on stage and give it everything."

As an actor, Alan has worked on TV shows such as Taggart, Rab C Nesbitt, River City and double Bafta-winner Limmy's Show. His writing credits include I Dreamed A Dream (The Susan Boyle Musical) and Radio 4's Week Ending and Saturday Live. For Qdos, he has played panto dame at His Majesty's Theatre in Aberdeen since 2004. He's currently there in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which he wrote.

"Everyone has their own idea about a Dame. For me, it's about the warmth and bond with the audience," says Alan. "I have 14 costume changes - my quickest is 11 seconds. There are three people backstage ready to rip it off me.

"I do 50/50 acting and writing. A lot of the year I'm on my laptop for 12 hours in my wee office, so to be in a company dovetails perfectly."

* Aladdin runs at the Alhambra until Sunday. Call (01274) 432000.