Action! Panto duo will entertain you!

Curtains are up at the Everyman and Cork Opera House for the annual pantos. COLETTE SHERIDAN talks to the directors
Action! Panto duo will entertain you!
Catherine Mahon-Buckley, (centre) producer/director of the Everyman CADA production of the pantomime Cinderella, at the Everyman Theatre, Cork, with the cast.

CATHERINE Mahon-Buckley, who is directing the Everyman pantomime for the 25th year, is a force of nature.

Strong, dedicated to her company, CADA Performing Arts, with creative skills that complement her husband’s business acumen, Catherine is a true survivor.

When she was two and a half years old, a doctor was on the verge of signing her death certificate, thinking she had died. But she sat up in St Finbar’s Hospital, much to the relief of her parents — and the doctor.

“I was very sick as a baby,” Catherine recalls. “I had caught a cold and whooping cough was raging in Ireland. My mother brought me to a clinic in City Hall where she was told to put me out at 7am in my pram for fresh air. Mum did that but I didn’t have whooping cough. I just had an ordinary cold which developed into pneumonia and then TB. At home, I felt sick and vomited blood which spattered all over the wall.”

When the doctor came to the house, he said he thought Catherine was gone.

“He wrapped me and brought me to the hospital. But he realised that the haemorrhage came out of me rather than within. So the moral of the story is that I’m a fighter, a goer.

“My mum said I slept very little. She would walk the floor with me by night and to this day, I don’t sleep much. I could be in my office at home at 2am and then go back to bed.”

Catherine Mahon-Buckley, producer/director of the Everyman CADA production of the pantomime Cinderella, at the Everyman Theatre,  with two of the stars, Ross MacLeod as Prince Charming, Zoe Talbot as Cinderella.
Catherine Mahon-Buckley, producer/director of the Everyman CADA production of the pantomime Cinderella, at the Everyman Theatre,  with two of the stars, Ross MacLeod as Prince Charming, Zoe Talbot as Cinderella.

Catherine reckons she has a touch of “mania”. She works very hard and is currently completing a doctorate on the formation of European style theatres such as the Everyman.

As well as producing and directing Cinderella for the theatre, she runs CADA Performing Arts and also teaches part-time at Presentation Secondary School.

“I love learning. My parents taught me that education is freedom. When I went to Maynooth around 2000, I did a diploma in theatre studies and then went on to do my master’s degree at St Patricks in Drumcondra. It was on the power of women in John B Keane’s plays.”

This year, Catherine had a couple of things to celebrate. She and her husband, Ted, who looks after the financial and contractual side of CADA Performing Arts, won a special award at the Cork Business Awards. They were deemed the best ‘couple in business’.

Catherine says that while she has done a lot for young people in Cork, equipping them with confidence-boosting stage skills, she has never looked for recognition.

“When our names were called, I was absolutely thrilled for Ted. He is the backbone of the business. I felt it was great for him to be honoured. He’s the business head. I’m the huntress with a vision while I always say Ted is the killer.”

The cast of Cinderella in Everyman Theatre Picture: Miki Barlok
The cast of Cinderella in Everyman Theatre Picture: Miki Barlok

Catherine always wanted to own her own studio.

“I now realise that I’d never have had the courage to take on a mortgage to do that by myself,” she says.

She was “very nervous” when she signed the papers for the mortgage. Her hand shook. But last September, Catherine and Ted paid off the mortgage on the Pine Street studio. And in typically generous mode, Catherine celebrated in style, hiring a bus to bring her employees to Dublin where she put them up in a hotel for a weekend and took them to a show.

Admitting that she doesn’t always know what her staff are paid, Catherine says she is “terrified” at the prospect of anything happening to Ted. An accountant with his own practice, he looks after CADA’s finances, administration, wages and staff contracts.

“Ted always says if anything happens to him, there’s a particular file that I need to have and I’ll be fine.”

Catherine is proud of her past students. They include the actress Sarah Greene and choreographer Daragh O’Leary, who worked on the London Olympics. Then there’s Robert Foley who is choreographing Cinderella — returning from a lecturing job in Barcelona to work on the pantomime.

“Some of my former students have gone into the theatre world. Others have gone into different professions such as Cian Cotter who is an up-and-coming barrister. I also taught Peter Foott (writer and director of The Young Offenders) and his brother, Mark, who is involved in the series. I taught them in St Luke’s school in Douglas.”

Catherine loves The Young Offenders.

“I love the rawness of it. It’s great fun and very real. It’s great for Cork. We have a lot of talent here. We punch above our weight. I think it’s because we have a great sense of humour and we’re able to laugh at ourselves.”

There will be plenty of laughter at the Everyman pantomime. Cinderella is played by a Dubliner, Zoe Talbot.

Asked if there will be special effects, Catherine says: “There’s the magic of the changing dress and there’s the carriage. But I think special effects can take away from the acting. We’re living in such a technical world that I wouldn’t even dream of competing with technology. What children love is human contact. At the panto, they’re engrossed by the actors. That’s a special effect in itself.

“Today, people are not talking to each other properly. We’re living in a very fast world with short attention spans. But humans haven’t changed. What makes Shakespeare’s plays survive is the way he understood human behaviour. Our panto is very traditional in that it’s true to the story. Children will recognise parts of themselves on stage.”

Oh yes they will!

Cinderella is at the Everyman until January 13. For bookings see www.everymancork.com


Trevor Ryan.Pic; Larry Cummins
Trevor Ryan.Pic; Larry Cummins

I CAUGHT THE PANTO BUG AS A CHILD... NOW I WRITE IT!

DIRECTOR and co-writer of Aladdin, the Cork Opera House pantomime, Trevor Ryan has achieved his three professional ambitions. The 46-year-old Douglas native always wanted to perform in the Opera House pantomime.

“I was in the chorus initially. Once I had done that, I was a principal and then, I wanted to direct the panto.”

Trevor, who recently became a father, remembers being taken to the Opera House pantomime as a child with his brother, his parents and grandparents.

“That’s how it all started for me. I was watching the likes of Paddy Comerford and Billa O’Connell on the stage. That’s my recollection of going to the theatre.

“My parents wouldn’t have been great theatergoers but panto was very much part of our Christmas. I remember some of the pantos really vividly. I caught the bug and knew I wanted to be up there on the stage. Getting the opportunity to share the stage with Paddy and Billa was like a dream come true.”

Between starring, directing and producing the show, this is Trevor’s 24th pantomime. His fifth year directing, he is confident that Aladdin will go down a treat with audiences.

“The Disney movie of Aladdin, with Robin Williams as the genie, is very popular. There’s a remake of Aladdin coming out next year with Will Smith playing Aladdin.”

The story, from the Arabian Nights series of Middle Eastern tales, is enchanting with special effects including a magic carpet. Frank Mackey, the Dublin-based Cork-born actor, co-wrote the pantomime with Trevor.

Cork Opera House Panto cast with baby Annabel, whose father Trevor Ryan directs the Panto. Picture: Miki Barlok
Cork Opera House Panto cast with baby Annabel, whose father Trevor Ryan directs the Panto. Picture: Miki Barlok

“We have taken a bit of poetic licence with the story,” says Trevor. “Frank has established the character of Nanny Nellie over the last few years and he will play that character as Aladdin’s mother.

“Aladdin and Nanny Nellie live in China Town in Peking with Aladdin’s brother, Wishee Washee, who runs a launderette. Aladdin’s nemesis is Abanazar who is trying to seek out entrance to the cave of wonders to get the magic lamp and rule supreme. The only person who can enter the cave is the diamond in the rough, Aladdin.”

Princess Jasmine is played by Caoimhe Garvey from Kerry. Aladdin is played by Kian Zomorodian and Barry Keenan is the genie. Michael Grenell plays Abanazar.

Trevor says because it is prohibitively expensive to build the pantomime set in Cork, an elaborate and opulent set is being hired from Qdos, a leading UK pantomime producer company.

“The cloths alone would take weeks and weeks to make. It’s very much a Middle Eastern looking set. Some of the panto is set in Egypt. It’s full of Cork references. We have actually written a song this year which has over 100 Cork streets referenced. It’s sung to the tune of the Can-Can. Frank Mackey sings it. I think it will be a show-stopper.”

The last Aladdin pantomime to be performed at the Opera House, five years ago, was directed by the late Bryan Flynn.

“I was in that production as Abanazar. Both myself and Frank Mackey learned a huge amount from Bryan. One of the things he created, that you don’t really see anywhere else, is the chase. It’s basically a seven or eight-minute mash-up of a number of different songs with the cast running around the stage. In this case, they’re running after the lamp. Bryan created the chase about 12 years ago and we’re carrying on the tradition.”

As soon as the curtain goes up on the pantomime at the Opera House, the following year’s pantomime title is decided.

“Pretty much as soon as the title is decided, we start story-boarding it and looking at ideas for the following year. We start writing the script in March. With Frank based in Dublin, we send each other snippets of script and normally, by mid-June, we would have the first draft done. We submit it to the Opera House for feedback and comments and then it goes back and forth.

“The script for this year’s panto is the thirteenth version of the script. There’s a very clear narrative in the story with lots of local references and topical humour. We edit a lot in the rehearsal room. The cast is very much involved. It’s a not a dictatorship. We appreciate the feedback from the cast and if they suggest something, it goes in if it works. Anything that doesn’t work is cut out.”

Trevor appreciates “the phenomenal team” behind the show.

“The Opera House throws a huge amount of resources into the panto. The budget is sizeable. There’s a huge amount of cast and crew involved, about forty to fifty people this year with a further forty kids from local stage schools. The stage manager who runs the whole thing for us is Aisling Fitzgerald.”

As co-director of the Montfort School of Performing Arts, Trevor recently directed the musical Legally Blonde, which was performed by the youngsters in the Montforts at the Everyman.

“We played to capacity houses. It cost €35,000 to put on,” he says.

Trevor says he probably broke even, which is all he can hope for. Producing musicals is an expensive business and Trevor says that the Cork Opera House “are the only people in Cork taking a risk on large scale musicals. Apart from the Opera House, it just doesn’t seem to be happening.”

Trevor and his wife, Jennifer O’Sullivan, who met through theatre, recently welcomed their first child into the world. Annabel is three months old. She attended some of the rehearsals for Legally Blonde, delighting the Montfort children. Costume designer for the pantomime, Joan Hickson, is making harem pants, a little top and a veil for Annabel, in the style of Princess Jasmine.

“Much as I’d like to take Anabel to the opening night of Aladdin, we’ll probably take her to a matinee, tucked away at the back of the theatre. If she starts to scream, then we’re out the door!”

Aladdin is at the Cork Opera House from November 30-January 20.

See www.corkoperahouse.ie for bookings and dates.

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