Polished and perfect - not a hint of jadedness after 65 pantos...

The curtain came down on the Cork Opera House panto at the weekend - and Kathriona Devereux caught one of the last shows
Polished and perfect - not a hint of jadedness after 65 pantos...

Princess Aurora played by Chloe Riordan and Prince Sebastian played by Eamonn Walsh in the Cork Opera House panto, Sleeping Beauty. Picture David Creedon

AS the curtains come down on the 2022/23 panto season let me salute the panto teams who made the magic happen and created memories that will last a lifetime.

The last time I was at a pantomime it was an adult version of Little Red Riding Hood in Crane Lane Theatre. If my memory serves me (it was more than ten years ago so I’m open to correction) it was an innuendo filled skit loosely following the story Little Red Riding Hood. The reason I remember the show was because Siobhan McSweeney’s deprecating wit had me honking. This was long before she went on to play sardonic Sister Michael in the hit Channel 4 series Derry Girls but it was clear from the panto stage that the girl had talent. The recent social media clip of esteemed director Martin Scorcese commenting on “those nuns” in Derry Girls was confirmation that my prediction of a ‘happy ever after’ for her acting career was spot on.

Before that again my childhood panto memories are from the Opera House trying to catch bags of sweets as they were flung from the stage into the grasping hands of children of the eighties for whom treats were an occasional and much longed occurrence.

So it had been a while since I attended a traditional pantomime and when we got a present of tickets for Christmas (thank you Uncle Shane!) I didn’t know what to expect. Would the tried and trusted production model have evolved? Would it be all “oh no you didn’ts” on a TikTok livestream? My kids were full of questions and I didn’t really know how to prepare them - yes there would be singing and dancing, there would be a funny man dressed as a woman and they might throw treats at you. It really is hard to imagine, or explain, what a pantomime is. You’ve just got to experience it.

And what an experience it was. Dense with pop cultural references, sassy one liners and cheesy puns The Sleeping Beauty production was a breakneck speed showcase of talent. 

With a dizzying amount of costume changes, snappy choreography and musical medleys I wondered what level of military-esque wizardry and organisation backstage was keeping the show on the road.

My kids were completely absorbed by the whole thing and were probably the perfect age for their first panto experience. A younger child sitting nearby wasn’t able for the appearance of baddie Maleficent, played too convincingly scarily by Shirley McCarthy. Every time she appeared the tot tried to make a break for home.

With nods to everything from The Octonauts to Mathilda to Gucci and Louis Vuitton there was, to borrow a phrase, something for everyone in the audience. The appearance of a brief GAA county championship reference between The Barrs and the Rockies was a surprise, and a laugh.

We watched the 65th show of the 67 shows performed over seven weeks and there wasn’t a hint of jadedness in any performer on stage, each was polished and perfect.

My favourite scene was an hilarious homage to Swan Lake performed by Nanny Nellie (Frank Mackey) and King Cedric (Michael Grennell) in ill-fitting ballet tights but there were so many numbers that were proper high-octane spectacles it was hard for my kids to pick a favourite.

I had recently answered all the questions about men dressing up as women for entertainment thanks to Panti Bliss’s appearance on RTÉ’s Dancing with the Stars so Nanny Nellie was no surprise. Afterwards I was asked what’s the difference between a drag queen and a panto dame and given the amount of wink wink nudge nudge jokes in this production I could barely discern a difference, bar Nanny Nellie’s slightly more modest attire.

Next year I’d be interested to check out the autism friendly performances that were held during the run because at times I found the visual and auditory extravaganza too much to take in and had to close my eyes. But I don’t get out much so maybe that’s just my age showing.

Given how important the panto is in terms of revenue to the annual success of the Cork Opera House it was great to see Saturday’s matinee almost a sell-out.

In fact one of the nicest aspects of the show was accidentally bumping into old friends at the interval. Instead of meeting these acquaintances at Cork’s latest hopping night spot I’m more likely to see them these days at Little Rebels, a random playground, or the panto.

Everyone I spoke to had a great day out (one returning emigré from Dublin said the whole production was better than the Gaiety panto) and we all promised to bump into each other at the panto next year.

BARE ROOT TREE SEASON

What is the perfect way to occupy two boys on a drizzly boring Sunday? A Nintendo switch? A Premier League match? A Millenium Falcon Lego Set? Nope. Two shovels and permission to dig up the garden to plant a couple of trees is all you need to while away hours and wear out small boys.

If you’ve been worrying about the climate and biodiversity crisis, planting a tree at this time of year is a positive step to take.

Bare root trees are dormant trees that nurseries grow in fields and sell with the root exposed, rather than in a soil filled container. They are planted throughout the cold months and are inexpensive and easy to plant.

When the weather warms up they should awaken from their winter sleep and start establishing themselves in your garden.

We planted two native Irish apple trees so hopefully come autumn we’ll be able to enjoy the bounty and hard work of two busy boys on a wintry Sunday in January.

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