independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Meet Ireland's greatest panto family (Oh yes, they are!)

The Tighes all get stuck in when it comes time to stage a big production, writes Joe O'Shea

When you write, produce and stage a pantomime every Christmas, it's good to know that your entire family are (where else?) behind you.

And the Tighe family from Co Kildare can certainly lay claim to the title of Ireland's Number One Panto Family.

Mum Rita, dad Brian and their children Claire and Ciaran have decades of experience and hundreds of shows under their sequinned belts.

And this festive season, the Tighes will be putting on their fifth major panto at the Helix theatre in Dublin – family entertainment in every sense of the phrase.

Claire, who has been in pantos since she was just about able to walk, co-writes and choreographs Beauty And The Beast, her fifth production following Aladdin, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Jack And The Beanstalk.

Mum Rita, with more than 20 years' theatrical experience, is the wardrobe mistress and costume designer for their family company Theatreworx.

Dad Brian and brother Ciaran look after the business and box-office side.

And Claire's fiancé, actor and comedian Aidan Mannion, stars and paints the sets.

The family, from Leixlip in Kildare, have already staged more than 300 panto performances at the Helix, and Aidan (who will be married to Claire this summer) has appeared in every single one.

"It's been a huge part of our lives for as long as I can remember, going right back to amateur panto in Leixlip when I was very young," says Claire.

"But it was when we started in the Helix, five years ago, that it really became a big production for us. We all pitched in, dad, mum, my brother, we just kind of threw ourselves into it."

Claire admits that panto can be a tough business.

Her productions in the Helix over the past few years have done well to cover their costs and break even.

"We are a fully professional company so everybody gets paid. But as far as making a profit is concerned, this is the first year we hope to do a little better than just cover our costs," she says.

"We don't scrimp on the quality of the actors or the settings and it can be an expensive business – there's obviously lots of competition and other productions do rely on famous faces to sell tickets," she says.

This year's production stars Voice of Ireland finalist Kyle Kennedy as The Beast, and actress Lauren Nevin ( The Tudors, Fair City) as the beautiful Belle.

And Claire says the traditional pantomime, a form of festive family entertainment with its roots in the Yuletide Mummers Plays of the Middle Ages, can still compete with more modern entertainment.

"I think Christmas would not be Christmas for a lot of families without a panto," she says.

'And families want the tradition, they want the dames, the jokes, the "he's behind you!", boo-the-baddie audience participation.

"There are jokes for the parents, a bit of innuendo and musical dance numbers to keep it moving along.

"But we have tended to avoid just putting in celebrities, I don't think our audiences are coming to see whoever was in the jungle on TV last year or whatever, they want the tradition."

The Tighes and their extended family of players will be going from November 30 to January 13, with matinée and evening shows every day, seven days a week.

Claire and Aidan (who "makes a great village idiot, he won't mind me saying that!") will take a break in mid-January and sit down to arrange their wedding. They plan to get married in Spain this summer. And no, they don't plan to have a pantomime theme.

Beauty and the Beast opens in the Helix Theatre in Dublin today

Irish Independent

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