Sunday 22 April 2018

Why big kids at heart love panto

Going to the pantomime is the ideal way to get in the Christmas spirit, oh yes it is, writes Donal Lynch

Nicholas Grennell as King Larry Lilly Loolah, Johnny Ward as Johnny B Goode, Ciara Lyons as Rapunzel, and Joe Conlan as Nanny Ninny Noonah, in ‘Rapunzel’ at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin
Nicholas Grennell as King Larry Lilly Loolah, Johnny Ward as Johnny B Goode, Ciara Lyons as Rapunzel, and Joe Conlan as Nanny Ninny Noonah, in ‘Rapunzel’ at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

It feels like we are in a panto moment. Somehow it has survived Pixar movies, recession and scandal and emerged into the modern world stronger than ever. Panto teaches young people about drama - it is the first taste of theatre for many of them - and reminds older people of the importance of silliness.

It is also big business: tickets sell like hot cakes and the stars of the major shows in Dublin are paid well enough to take most of the year off once they've wiped off the dame make-up.

Beyond the corny comedy, dodgy product tie-ins and the recent whiff of scandal, panto remains the beating heart of the Christmas spirit.

Here are six of the best to sample this festive season.

Polly & The Beanstalk

Olympia Theatre, Dublin, from Friday, December 15 until Sunday, January 14

* Never was the phrase, 'the show must go on', more apt than with Polly & The Beanstalk this year at the Olympia. After the issues involving Al Porter, former Mrs Brown's Boys' star Rory Cowan has stepped into the role of Polly, and The X Factor finalists Sean and Conor Price have been hired to bolster the cast. Fresh from performing to millions on television, the brilliant Blessington brothers are seen as the perfect family entertainers to headline the production. It's understood that the Prices will dip into some of the covers they performed on The X Factor, and will have gags reflecting their time on the talent show to deliver to the crowd. Polly & The Beanstalk will also feature an appearance from a true 1990s' Irish icon: Dustin the Turkey.

Individual tickets priced from €26 and family tickets priced from €84 from www.ticketmaster.ie

Sleeping Beauty

Cheerios Panto at the Tivoli from December 7 to January 14 (some dates already sold out)

* The Tivoli may lack a certain theatrical snootiness - no royal boxes for instance - but this makes it an ideal setting for panto and the talents of husband-and-husband team Alan Hughes (Sammy Sausages) and Karl Broderick (writer). They have been putting together this show for two decades now and are a well-oiled machine who consistently deliver one of the panto highlights of the year. The story offers an irreverent take on the classic tale of good fairies, evil witches, and a handsome prince. Former winner of The X Factor Mary Byrne will also lend her impressive pipes to her performance as Good Queen Mary in the show.

Individual tickets from €15, family tickets from €26 via www.panto.ie

Rapunzel

The Gaiety Theatre until January 21

* The Gaiety has been hosting its annual panto since 1873. It wouldn't be a panto without some epic punnery, and Rapunzel promises some hair-lairious adventures as the fairy princess is brought into the modern festive season. Theatre maven Caroline Downey explained: "We invest more now than we ever have - we definitely don't scrimp. We spend because children now are more interactive with so many games and visuals." Joe Conlan as Nanny Ninny Noonah, Ciara Lyons as Rapunzel and Nicholas Grennell as King Larry Lilly Loolah are just some of the stars who are gracing the stage.

Individual tickets from €19.50 via www.ticketmaster.ie

Annie

The National Concert Hall from December 27 to January 3

* Annie has to be one of the best of all children's musicals, with some of the catchiest songs and a memorable film version. Little wonder the original stage show ran for so long on Broadway and won so many Tony awards. Here, the fabulous Katherine Lynch loses her musical theatre virginity - this is her first time in panto - to channel her inner workhouse tyrant as the drunken old Miss Hannigan. Tony Finnegan stars as Daddy Warbucks, and they pair wonderfully with an army of impish ragamuffins whose voices soar over this wonderful score.

Tickets from €25 at www.nch.ie

The Improvised Panto

Cork Opera House, December 8, 9, 15, 16, 21, 22 and 23

* Are you tired of Aladdin or jaded of Cinderella? Do you feel that panto shouldn't be just puns for kids? Then this might be the show for you. For the seventh year running, ITSA Theatre Company returns to Cork Opera House with its hugely successful show The Improvised Panto, bringing festive ad libs and anything-might-happen comedy to a set that is entirely different every night it is performed. Many of the cast members will be familiar to Cork audiences, including Dominic MacHale who has just finished filming with The Young Offenders, and audiences can expect ribald humour and mischievous takes on some popular panto classics as the performers tap into their wit and improvisational timing.

Tickets from €15 via www.corkoperahouse.ie

Cinderella

The Spar Panto, University Concert Hall, Limerick, from December 18 to January 7

* Former pop princess Samantha Mumba playing the evil stepmother in Cinderella might be one of the surest signs that we are getting old. Mumba was one of the brightest Irish stars of the noughties and was most recently seen on Celebrity Masterchef. Joining Samantha for his panto debut at University Concert Hall will be Dayl Cronin, Dancing with the Stars semi-finalist, and former member of Irish boyband Hometown, who will star as Prince Charming.

Adult tickets from €26.50, family tickets from €74 via www.uch.ie.

Panto has survived Pixar movies, recession and scandal into the modern world stronger than ever.

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