AGANEZA Scrooge – now there’s a Tron Theatre acting challenge that’s scarier than Jacob Marley’s ghost. Director Sally Reid knew she had to find a performer who could capture something of creator Johnny McKnight’s original panto performance, yet make the role their own.

She needed an actor who could suggest the hot-water-bottle warmth of a Bill Murray, create the black comedy bedevilment of Alastair Sim and tinsel it all off with Jim Carey comedy timing. Oh, and go full-on Mariah Carey while delivering the compulsory Tron panto ending, All I Want For Christmas.

Thankfully, Sally Reid was more than acquainted with Louise McCarthy’s ability to slip into McKnight’s size 9 sparkly stilettos. Over the years, the Maryhill-born actor has shown she can shift effortlessly from playing tough and unyielding, to kind and compassionate.

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She can be gobby and loud, as in The Dolls, her stage double-act with Gayle Telfer Stevens, or her roles in BBC Scotland comedies The Scotts and Scots Squad. But appearances in the likes of stage classics Men Should Weep, or Cuttin’ a Rug, revealed McCarthy can also offer great vulnerability.

Yet she takes none of her success for granted. “I’m a bit terrified of playing Johnny’s Scrooge,” says McCarthy during a rehearsal break in the Tron Theatre bar. “But at the same time the writing is so good that it really helps to get into the part.”

Who is her Scrooge? “I’m going for the miserable Glesga wummin,” she says, grinning. “Someone who just can’t find joy in anything. And of course, she has to be shown the error of her ways. And without going too deeply into it – because it is panto after all – she’s someone who’s had a hard life. Sadly, the joy she has found in life has been the joy of making money because it’s what she’s good at.”

McCarthy believes her Scrooge features a lot of Scottish traits – some positive, some less so. “There are lots of lines in the show such as. ‘You’ve got to work for what you want in life’ and ‘I wasn’t handed anything on a plate.’ It’s maybe sad we’ve lost some of that in society today. When it comes to work, I think you get out what you put in.”

The Herald: Louise McCarthy in The DollsLouise McCarthy in The Dolls (Image: free)

She has put in a very good shift so far. On deciding upon a career in acting after seeing legend Dorothy Paul in The Steamie, McCarthy studied at London drama college, Arts Educational. She appeared in the West End in the likes of Mamma Mia!, but when work dried up she returned north, worked in restaurants, bought a microphone and toured pubs singing Sweet Caroline.

She laughs: “My dad used to say, ‘See our Louise, she’s no’ brilliant at anything. But she’s good at a lot of things, and she’s a hard worker.’ I think he didn’t want me to get too big-headed.”

Louise McCarthy’s dad was only half right. His daughter, now a mother-of-two, is an excellent actor, an argument underlined by the fact she’s rarely out of work these days. For example, the Stevens & McCarthy sketch show has been commissioned for four half-hour episodes on BBC Scotland. “Then it’s fingers crossed for series four of The Scotts.” She is also set to appear in Queen of the New Year, the Hogmanay sketch show with Greg Hemphill and Robert Florence.

“I just want to do it all, whether it’s Chekhov, or Shakespeare. Remember, it’s all words and whatever the play, you just do your homework and say the words truthfully. Of course, you don’t know that when you’re younger. You don’t find copies of Chekhov plays stuck into bushes when you grow up in Maryhill. It’s a different kind of books.”

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The glass ceiling above Maryhill was thick and tough. “I did have a constant battle with myself back then, that I’m not quite good enough to do that [serious drama]. It’s a terrible fear, a doubt that because you come from a certain world then this world [of classic theatre] is not for you. Thankfully, that notion has changed for a lot of working-class kids.”

What becomes obvious is that Louise McCarthy’s dad has been successful in making sure his daughter’s blonde head hasn’t swelled at all. Here’s an example; the teenage McCarthy joined her local drama club after an audition in which she read an excerpt from The Steamie, as performed by the legendary Dorothy Paul who was the original Magrit.

Yet, a suggestion she meet up with Paul is received with the same enthusiasm Aganeza shows when asked to part with cash at Christmas. Why? “I’m too feart. What would I say to her?” Thanks, for the inspiration? “Naw, never,” she says, in determined voice.

What? You’ve got the confidence to entertain hundreds from a panto stage – yet not shake hands with your idol? Thankfully, after five minutes hard persuasion we see the soft Aganeza appear. “Aye, mibbe. OK,” she says, smiling.

Aganeza Scrooge, the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, November 29-January 7

Still Game stars Jane McCarry and Mark Cox put on the panto slap again this year at the Beacon Arts Centre in Greenock, appearing in Beauty and the Beast, December 9–31.