"After the challenges of the past two years it's really important to find a way for families to retain their Christmas traditions..."

In her weekly column, Theatre Nights, Jo Kerrigan celebrates the return of Cork's pantos
"After the challenges of the past two years it's really important to find a way for families to retain their Christmas traditions..."

Eibhlin Gleeson, CEO, Cork Opera House

ONE of the best things to happen recently has been the opening of the pantomimes at both Everyman and the Opera House.

After much frantic re-planning and moving around of schedules, consultations and worry sessions, in the very best tradition, those shows went on.

After all, the companies, cast, and crews had been working for months on the biggest presentation of the year – was all that to go for nothing? Oh no it wasn’t!

Being hit with the sudden restriction of 50% capacity – when you had already sold multiple tickets for most performances – was a hard blow, but both houses didn’t waste time on wailing and remorse. They got down to it and the results are bringing happiness to all.

Wednesday of last week saw the opening of Aladdin at Everyman, and it delighted its audience – so much so that the show got a standing ovation at the final curtain.

Catherine Mahon- Buckley - producer and director of the Everyman Panto Aladdin.
Catherine Mahon- Buckley - producer and director of the Everyman Panto Aladdin.

“It was certainly an emotional night,” says panto producer and director Catherine Mahon-Buckley. “When the band struck up, we all welled up. We couldn’t help it!”

Call 021 450 1673 or log onto www.everymancork.com for tickets, and see a review of it in the Echo on Saturday.

The Opera House, despite having sold far more tickets than the unexpected new regulations would allow, did some hard calculations, held brainstorming sessions, and also decided to go ahead. They would keep to the 50% limit, and add a staggering extra 26 shows to cater for those who could not attend on their original date.

“It was touch and go for a few days while we established if it was actually possible for us to do it,” admits Opera House CEO, Eibhlín Gleeson. “However, the thought of cancelling the show was devastating to us all, having put so much love and energy into it to this point.”

It does mean that some of their audience will have to move to other times, but these patrons, chosen fairly by lottery, will be contacted individually and given new dates. 

“We know this is not ideal, but it’s the only way that everyone will get to see the show. No need to contact us, we’ll sort it all out.”

And so Nanny Nellie’s Adventures in Pantoland opened last Friday to an audience that couldn’t have enjoyed it more. Knowing the professionalism of the team, we wouldn’t be surprised if a few topical jokes on restrictions got into the script!

Of course, adding 26 additional shows means the cast will undertake multiple shows on several dates, up to three shows on some days. That’s pretty demanding.

“Fortunately, our show is slightly shorter this year, running at 75 minutes with no interval,” says Eibhlin. “Nevertheless, our cast and staff will be working harder than ever before.”

Panto, she says feelingly, is so important to local audiences. 

“After the challenges of the past two years, it’s really important to find a way for families to retain their Christmas traditions of going to the pantomime.”

We couldn’t agree more. As one comment on their Facebook page said: “Thanks for keeping panto alive in Cork through very difficult circumstances.”

See below for a review of that.

And the Christmas Concert is going ahead too at the Opera House, on Sunday, December 19. Always a highlight of their winter programme, it will feature a host of leading national and local artists singing a range of seasonal classics. They will be accompanied by the Cork Opera House Concert Orchestra conducted by John O’Brien.

Well up on that programme is local writer Cónal Creedon. John O’Brien has put two short pieces from Creedon’s latest collection of short fiction ( Pancho And Lefty Ride Again) to music. The two works will have their premiere live performance onstage that night. 021 427 0022 or www.corkoperahouse.ie.

Good news from Macroom – work is due to start shortly on rebuilding the Briery Gap theatre which has been closed since a fire in 2016. They have always had a lively programme at that little home of the drama. Let us all look forward to its reopening, estimated to be in 2023.

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