Tuesday 20 March 2018

Panto season is here, get your kids to the theatre

Whether it's a part of the run-up to the big day or an excuse to get off the couch afterwards, there is something for everyone in this year's shows

He's bend you: Hayley-Jo Murphy as Little Red Riding Hood and Nicholas Grennell as The Big Bad Wolf
He's bend you: Hayley-Jo Murphy as Little Red Riding Hood and Nicholas Grennell as The Big Bad Wolf
Liadan Hynes

Liadan Hynes

Thanks to the onslaught of smartphones, iPads and laptops we will receive this Christmas, not to mention those we already own, and the appeal of Christmas television, it would be quite possible to spend the holiday season with one's head glued to a screen.

But the traditional Christmas panto provides the perfect opportunity to get the family together for a day out.

Make it a multi-generational affair, or, even better, start a new family tradition by getting the grandparents to take the little ones for the day while you shop, get the house sorted or, better yet, relax. After the big day, a Christmas show is the ideal antidote to the cabin fever that can set in.

Children on school holidays and parents desperately trying to entertain those children need ways to blow off steam and there's something undeniably cathartic about the singing and shouting involved in pantos.

Not to mention if you've reached peak family-get-together, this is an ideal way to get everyone together that provides plenty of entertainment and not a lot of sitting around making small talk.

If you're after the classic Christmas experience, a trip to the Gaiety Theatre's panto is up there with a visit to Arnotts' Santa Clause.

This year they have gone for Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. Joe Conlon, a legend in the panto world, is celebrating his 26th year in the trade, playing The Notorious Granny McGregor. Hayley-Jo Murphy stars in the title role, Fair City's Shane McDaid as Woody and Nicholas Grennell is The Big Bad Wolf. If you want the full "he's behind you" experience, this will guarantee exactly that.

Little Red Riding Hood is now running until 24 January 2016, see gaeitytheatre.ie for details.

Over at The Tivoli, there is more classic panto fare, with Beauty and The Beast, starring the man few would argue deserves the title of Ireland's King, or Queen, of Panto, Alan Hughes, as Sammy Sausages.

He is joined by Rob Murphy as Buffy, Fair City's Dermot as Seamus Power, and model and singer Michelle McGrath as Belle. Running from December 9 until January 10, 2016, see panto.ie

For some clean fee-fi-fo-fun, The Helix is hosting Jack and the Beanstalk by TheatreworX Productions, starring a tonne of panto stalwarts, including Niall Sheey, Eoin Cannon, Aidan Mannion, Colin Hughes Adam Lynch and Liam Butler, with Orla Jenning as Jill. This runs until January 10, see thehelix.ie.

With a new Mary Poppins film in the works - said to be set on previously unadapted books and to possibly stay truer to PL Traver's original version of a somewhat less cuddly Mary - Mary Poppins at the BGT is a chance to indulge in the classic Disney vision of everyone's favourite nanny .

Produced by Cameron Mackintosh, he of Les Miserables, Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, this promises to be classic musical entertainment on a grand scale.

As well as Mackintosh, there are all sorts of big names attached to this production. Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes was involved in the writing of this production and legendary choreographer Matthew Bourne is also on board. This is truly the Hollywood blockbuster of Christmas shows. Now running until January 9 at The Bord Gais Energy Theatre, see bordgaisenergytheatre.ie.

Classy isn't necessarily the first word that comes to mind when one thinks of Christmas shows, but if you want something a littles less camp, also at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre is The Snowman Christmas Special.

For some of us, Christmas hasn't really begun until we've heard the dulcet tones of child soprano Aled Jones, as he was then, sing Walking in the Air, the classic hit from Raymond Brigg's beautiful animated tale.

RTE's Shay Byrne narrates, the movie is shown on a big screen, The Irish Philharmonic Orchestra and several stage school choirs provide the music. If you feel the need to inject some culture into your little ones' Christmas season, this is as highbrow as it gets. Shows on December 14 and December 20, see bordgaisenergytheatre.ie.

Also on the menu for culture vultures, as part of their ongoing series of this playwright's work, the Abbey is staging a production of George Bernard Shaw's comedy You Never Can Tell, an entertaining battle of the sexes. Opening this Tuesday, it is directed by Conall Morrison, who brought us She Stoops to Conquer last year, the cast includes Niall Buggy, Denis Conway, Nick Dunning, Eleanor Methven, Eamon Morrissey, Caoimhe O'Malley and Paul Reid. See abbeytheatre.ie.

Back to classic camp and The Olympia is showing Freezin' - The Story of the Snow Queen, directed by Simon Delaney and starring the comedian Al Porter, who has had something of a breakthrough year, as Lolly Polly.

At 21, Porter was the youngest Irish comic to headline at Vicar Street and his brand of comedy is perfectly suited to panto. This will be his 11th year starring in the Olympia Christmas panto, impressive considering his young age. Freezin' runs from December 18 until January 10. See Olympia.ie.

If the thought of audience participation sets your teeth on edge and you're after an altogether calmer affair, take yourself to The Gate's production of Oscar Wilde's classic comedy The Importance of Being Earnest. They won't make you shout things at the stage or expect you to wave props, but it's still light, amusing, party-season appropriate fare.

Directed by Patrick Mason, the cast includes Rory Nolan and Marty Rea. See gatetheatre.ie

If you would rather avoid town, the Mill Theatre in Dundrum is adjacent to the M50 and is running Stinky McRinky Steals Christmas from December 8 until 31. See milltheatre.ie.

For younger children, who might find the sometimes hysterical pace, not to mention the pitch of full panto, somewhat daunting, The Lambert Puppet Theatre is showing Aladdin until January 31.

This is a far more manageable affair for really little ones with parents determined to get in on the big Christmas show day out. See lambertpuppettheatre.ie.

Also along these lines, The Ark is hosting an original musical work by Donegal sisters The Henry Girls:Tracks in the Snow. The show celebrates all that we love to do and see when the world turns white, and is part of their ongoing project of commissioning new music. It runs until December 20, see ark.ie.

The Project Arts Centre in Dublin's Temple Bar hosts poet Sean Dennehy on December 11 and 12 for an evening of poetry and song entitled Christmas Pieces, see projectsartscentre.ie.

It is also hosting an aerial circus take on Red Riding Hood by Fidget Feet Aerial Dance Theatre, from December 16-19. And on December 18, as part of their Secret Songs series, they host a night of music that celebrates hidden gems and forgotten classics, on this occasion with a flavour of Christmas.

The Irish National Youth Ballet will present The Nutcracker in The Pavilion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire from December 11-13. See paviliontheatre.ie.

The Pavilion is also showing Cinderella by the Paula Lambert Puppet Theatre on December 20, with a guest appearance by Bosco, who was actually voiced for 17 years by Paula Lambert. In Cork, the Everyman is showing Aladdin, starring the winner of The Voice of Ireland, Keith Hanley. The show runs until January 10, see everymancork.com, while the Cork Opera House has Beauty and the Beast from December 11 until 17 January 17. See corkoperahouse.ie.

The Renmore Pantomime society presents Jack and the Beanstalk in the Town Hall Theatre in Galway from December 29 to January 10, see tht.ie.

For those looking for a family day out carolling, the Town Hall Theatre also hosts the Family Christmas Concert on December 12 and Handel's Messiah on the same date.

For those for whom this is an essential part of Christmas, the National Concert Hall is hosting what it claims is the definitive version of Handel's work, with Our Lady's Choral Society and the RTE Concert Orchestra, on 9, 10 and 11 December. See nch.ie.

The Limerick Panto Society presents Goldilocks…the Circus Panto, at The Lime Tree Theatre in Limerick, from December 27 to January 3, starring RTE's Emma O'Driscoll in the title role. See limetreetheatre.ie.

The Wexford Pantomime Society is showing Snow White and The Babes in the Wood in the Dun Mhuire Theatre. See wexfordpanto.com.

Also in Limerick, the University Concert Hall presents Sleeping Beauty, starring Keith Duffy, Richie Hayes, Leanne Moore and Fair City's Hilda Fay. See uch.ie.

The National Folk Theatre in Kerry hosts The Wizard of Oz panto from December 29 to January 3. It is also holding a night of carols with the National Folk Theatre Choir on December 17. See siamsatire.com.

With such an array of theatrical delights, there are simply no excuses not to take in at least one show over the Christmas. It will get your children away from their computer screens for starters!

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