Looking forward to a bright Spring with plenty of entertainment

In her weekly Theatre Nights Jo Kerrigan tells us what's on Cork stages in the weeks ahead and also reflects on performances of yesteryear
Looking forward to a bright Spring with plenty of entertainment

Jack O'Rourke is at Cyprus Avenue on January 29. Picture: Miki Barlok

WASN’T it great to see our own Billa O’Connell honoured in one of the penultimate panto performances at the Opera House?

The Lord Mayor presented Billa’s family with the city’s book of condolences following his death last year, and many tributes were paid to that great dame who graced the stage for so many years.

In fact, Billa began his long association with the Opera House back in 1947, when it was still the old 19th century building, and before that he had probably been climbing that iconic iron staircase up the side of the building to the ‘gods’ to enjoy this great festive tradition.

We will always hold you in our hearts, Billa boy.

Well, the panto season is over, and well done to our theatres for coping so well with the many obstacles thrown up in their faces. Now we can look forward to a bright spring, with plenty of entertainment.

The High Kings, playing at the Opera House on January 27.
The High Kings, playing at the Opera House on January 27.

At the Opera House itself, we have those masters of music, Andy Irvine and Paul Brady in on January 24, followed by The High Kings on the 27th, and that perennial favourite, Reeling In The Showband Years with performances, on January 29 and 30.

All are likely to be sell-outs, especially with the current restrictions on audience numbers, so don’t delay. Call 021 427 0022 or see www.corkoperahouse.ie.

The interesting Fight Night is on at the Everyman on January 20, telling the story of a boxer’s comeback. Glory Holy is already sold out there for January 22. Call 021 450 1673 or see www.everymancork.com.

Cork songwriter Jack O’Rourke is marking 2022 with the release of Coffee Song, a single from his acclaimed album Wild Place. Written during lockdown, he reveals, the morning ritual of making a coffee gave his day purpose and showed how the smaller things in life should be appreciated. O’Rourke is at Cyprus Avenue on January 29 at 5pm.

NOSTALGIA

Now here is something curious. We uncovered an old programme for the Palace from 1957, for a performance of Maritana by the Cork Grand Opera Group. Among the previous presentations listed in the programme are La Traviata and Rigoletto at the Opera House in 1954, Il Trovatore and Lucia di Lammermoor in 1954 at the same venue, and Aida plus The Barber of Seville at the Opera House in the winter of 1955 (just before the fire).

An old programme for the Palace from 1957, for a performance of Maritana by the Cork Grand Opera Group.
An old programme for the Palace from 1957, for a performance of Maritana by the Cork Grand Opera Group.

But the interesting entry is for the company’s very first season, in 1953, when it played Maritana at the City Theatre in Limerick and the Coliseum Theatre in Cork. Now, how many people know that the good old Coliseum cinema was also a theatre?

We knew the Palace always held on to its theatrical license, even in the heyday of cinema – cynics said it was so they could maintain their license for the bar – but we never heard before of the Coliseum hosting the drama or indeed the opera.

We would like to hear from you if you have memories of this unsuspected side of its career.

There is a copy of the cast list from that 1957 production on the left. Recognise any names? (There is a young David McInerney in there, for one.)

CENTRE STAGE: Cork Operatic Society present The Belle Of New York at the Opera House in 1955 — just three weeks before the theatre burned to the ground
CENTRE STAGE: Cork Operatic Society present The Belle Of New York at the Opera House in 1955 — just three weeks before the theatre burned to the ground

Interestingly, the Cork Operatic Society presented The Belle Of New York at the Opera House just three weeks before the theatre burned to the ground — on November 21, 1955.

The following spring’s production of Maritana therefore had to be presented at the Palace, where James N. Healy was to stage many Gilbert & Sullivan and other light musical productions in the late ’50s and early ’60s.

Can you recall his wonderful Golden Years, recreating of the life of Percy French, with Healy himself as an irate train driver with a live goose under his arm (or was it a duck?)

Email your theatre memories to jokerrigan1@gmail.com.

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