THREE flights of stairs up a close in Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street – above Taco Bell – you arrive in expectation of the sweet smell of panto success, but there’s barely more than a whiff of burrito.

Through the door marked The Pure Amazing Wiz of Oz, we’re in a large white room which is the rehearsal space for the upcoming Websters panto. Five young people in tracksuit bottoms and T-shirts are running through their dance moves to the opening song Proud Mary (“It will get the audience going from the get-go”) but you wonder ‘Where is the magic?’

In the past five years, Websters’ pantos have developed a cult following from their base in the converted Lansdowne Parish Church in Glasgow’s west end. Audiences have increased year-on-year, reaching close to 90 per cent capacity. Right now, however, it’s not so easy to imagine that just five performers will become Dorothys, tin wummen, lions and munchkins who will tell stories, sing songs and cause little – and big – hearts to soar. All in a week’s rehearsal time. (The likes of the King’s Theatre up the road has four).

Producer Paul Harper-Swan and co will certainly be hoping that 180 big and little weans will again plonk excited bums onto seats (reclaimed from Glasgow’s Odeon cinema) to wallow in this Glesga parody of the Wizard of Oz story, delight in Dotty from Partick, who works in the Garage nightclub and dreams of a life in showbiz – getting caught up in a powerful wind that lifts her to Oz. (No, it’s not Friday night student flatulence)

But how can five young people pull it off? This is the (small) business end of showbiz, a team attempting to lay the foundations for their very own yellow brick road, but with limited base metal backing? “We don’t talk money,” says Harper-Swan through lips clenched tighter than a beanstalk giant’s fist. “That’s for the accountants and people like that.”

That’s all very well. But why would audiences, perhaps used to the more expensive big production efforts of the King’s, the Armadillo and the Pavilion buy into this bijou theatre show?

And while the Websters' audience will be surrounded by the beautiful stained glass designs of acclaimed “genius” Alf Webster, who created his work at the turn of the last century, the numbers involved in putting the Websters’ panto together will suggest more of a PVC single glazing inexpensive show.

Harper-Swan at least offers a recognition smile when it’s pointed out Stanley Baxter used to spend £20,000 on his King’s Theatre panto frocks alone. “We don’t spend anything like that but we do have great costumes,” he says (courtesy of “the brilliant” Fiona Larkin).

“We try to keep costs down,” he adds, but points out that they pay the cast the proper Equity rates.

What’s clearly an incentive for panto audiences is the ticket prices. A family-of-four booking, for example, will set Santa back just sixty quid. Yet, if Websters' weekly budget probably wouldn’t pay for the flying carpet alone of last year’s King’s show, does it matter?

“No, it doesn’t," says Harper-Swan, who studied musical theatre at Motherwell College before setting up his own theatrical agency and production house. “And you don’t need a multi-million pound show to provide great entertainment. But you do need great talent.”

The talent. That seems the key (as well as having a script that’s tastier than Snow White’s apple – before it’s been doctored, of course.)

Harper-Swan is speaking of the likes of Neil Thomas, who plays the Wicked Witch of the West End. Thomas, who trained at Edinburgh’s Queen Margaret College and later studied musical theatre, has worked for the National Theatre of Scotland, Dundee Rep and the Lyceum and the Tron. (His performance in Websters’ first ever show Little Shop of Horrors was impeccable.) And when you chat to Thomas there’s no doubting the Fife-born performer’s commitment to panto as being anything less than remarkable.

He recalls, “auditioning so hard to become an Ugly Sister in the school panto” but being devastated when he didn’t make the cut. “It was Primary Seven and my voice was breaking, and I didn’t get it,” he says with a comic sigh. “I was gutted when I had to play Cinderella’s dad.”

His voice lifts to offer the happy ending. “But then at Sixth Year in high school my music teacher believed I had a voice and took me aside for private singing lessons. And I finally got my chance to play an Ugly.” He adds, “My mum made the costumes and it was brilliant.”

Thomas, you discover is fairly typical of the Websters' talent pool in that he has proved himself as a top performer in theatres across Scotland. But as well as having a terrific tenor voice his enthusiasm for his craft almost has me reaching for the ticket box hot line.

For example, he talks excitedly about his dames, which are Ru Paul-inspired – he’s more Kinky Boots than Johnny Beattie’s bloke in a pair of workie boots. And drag is now so much of Neil Thomas’s life he has formed a drag double act with Jamie McKillop, his sometime Websters' co-star.

Thomas reveals he even met his wife, fellow performer Kirsty Malone, while playing a drag queen on stage at the Tron. “She gives me so much advice on make up and dressing-up stuff and she absolutely loves it. We have some great nights in.”

He anticipates the next question. “Yes, it’s not so common that straight guys do drag; panto dames, yes, but Kirsty thinks it’s brilliant.”

Lee Reynolds, who plays the feartie Lioness, studied at Coatbridge College before taking off to London to take a post-grad in musical theatre at the Royal Academy of Music and Drama. “I’ve always been keen,” she says in an excited voice. “I remember at primary school someone got sick for the school show and I wanted to take their part. My hand went up in the air like a rocket. It didn’t matter to me that it was the Artful Dodger. I just wanted a wee shot. Then I lost my dad when I was a teenager, and was a bit lost, but the idea of performing kept me going.”

Dorothy, or Dottie as she is known in the Websters' script, is played by Claire Hubsmith, who seconds before has been dancing delightedly to a tune from Wicked. Erskine-born Hubsmith is just 21 but already has three pantos under her belt, learning her craft in the likes of East Kilbride and Lanark. “Dottie is a leather jacketed, sassy girl but she is also kind,” says the former Pace Theatre student who went on to train at the Dance School of Scotland. “The panto is traditional, it keeps the essence of the story, but with twists.”

She adds, smiling; “Since the age of three I’ve wanted to be a panto princess. Now, it’s a reality. Except that she is wearing a leather jacket.”

The passion in each of the performers is as loud as any shout of, ‘He’s behind you!' Melissa Davie, who graduated drama college in Motherwell in 2013 and has appeared in several pantos, plays the Tin Wummin. Davie appeared in The Wizard of Oz aged 13 and felt her dream had come true. How does she feel that a younger woman has taken the role? Does she wish the Wicked Witch would have her killed off and sent back to Kansas? “No, I’ve had my turn as Dorothy,” she says, laughing. “I’m really happy to be play other characters.”

Paul Harper-Swann offers another reason for the success of the little panto in the former Gothic church: he believes Websters’ small cast can create audience empathy. Each of the panto performers have to play at least two characters and the punters realise these performers are busting a gut – and a few dress buttons – to switch characters in a nano second.

Thomas, who also plays The Wizard and Simon Cowell (all will be revealed) agrees they get bonus points for the hard graft. “With a cast of just five this means lots of doubling up, and extra special demands, such as singing live harmonies. For example, I can find myself hopping about backstage, trying to clip on a bra and pull on a pair of fishnets, while at the same time trying to sing top Gs.” He grins. “What this means is you are never bored.”

But does it mean his head might blow off, having to remember lines, yet factor in all the technical demands (singing, while covering the mic to the sound of zip zipping)? “Yes,” he laughs. “And there have been a few hairy moments, so to speak.”

Dresses tucked into knickers? “Oh, yes. Wigs slipped, the lot. And one night my mic pack slipped down and appeared just underneath my skirt. You can imagine what it looked like, and the reaction that got. But the audience love all that stuff.”

Lee Reynolds agrees. “I also play Glynda, and who has a very pretty posh voice, as opposed to my Glesga Lioness, and at times I’ll be dressed as the Lioness off stage yet be projecting the voice of Glynda. And we all have a Munchkin puppet to control. But you give it your all because you don’t want to be a weak link. And the audience take all this in.”

Melissa Davie has to scramble out of her Tin Wummin costume to become Auntie Em and a Wee Neddy Boy. “The challenge is to keep the illusion going but I do think the audience love the fact there are just five of us trying to create all these characters.”

Alessandro Sanguini, who plays the Scarecrow, studied at GAMTA, worked in touring theatre, and he also directs children’s touring pantos throughout the UK. The actor certainly has an obvious passion for his craft. But he offers another reason why audiences are flocking to smaller theatres such as Websters. “It’s the intimacy. You are so close to the audience when you perform. You are right there with them. And they love it. The result is you get people coming back to see the show every year and sometimes more than once.”

So small can be good. The audience know this isn’t the London Palladium. And not only do they accept it, they embrace it. “This is live theatre and if something goes wrong you can make it work in your favour. You can’t really call this a job. To get paid for doing this is incredible.”

What you sense, however, aside from the unbridled enthusiasm, the talent, the desire to create magic – there’s a feeling this lot actually sweat grease paint and glitter – is this group of performers really like each other. (This is not a feature in all panto casts.) “I’m aware that you have to be reliable, be a good company member,” says Lee Reynold. “And in shows like this you have to really work hard.”

She adds. “The minute the costume goes on it’s showtime. It’s all about making an audience happy.”

Claire Hubsmith loves the cast’s closeness. “It’s great having a small team. We come to rely upon each other when it gets a bit like Groundhog Day. And I couldn’t be happier.”

Neil Thomas underlines why we can expect the smell of success to be wafting down Great Western Road on opening night. “I love it,” he says of the team spirit in the room. “I get to work with pals. And that is magical in itself.”

The Pure Amazing Wiz of Oz, Websters Theatre, Glasgow, November 30 – January 4.