| 7°C Dublin

Jedward's magic beans help pantos put bad times behind us

The country may be in the grip of austerity -- but the pantos are lifting the gloom. And no more so than wacky twins Jedward who appear to have single-handedly whipped the recession.

"I think it's that escapism situation, as the recession has hit people so badly," says Linda Martin, who starred in Jedward and the Beanstalk at the Olympia Theatre. "You've got to get a night out and have a laugh somewhere."

And according to John Costigan of the Gaiety Theatre, while advance bookings were down at first for Robinson Crusoe and the Caribbean Pirates, as soon as the show opened, demand surged. He reckons that somewhere in the region of 70,000-80,000 people will ultimately see the show, which runs for almost two months. With an average ticket price of €30 that's a cool €2m in ticket sales. Not only that, 1,000 tickets have already been sold for next year's production of Cinderella.

"I feel particularly proud to be a part of this year's show, as the response from people has been great, and I think it's a fantastic show," said its star Samantha Mumba.

While stars are an essential part of the panto Mr Costigan says the theatre itself is the real draw. "I always say that the true star of our panto is the Gaiety itself," he says, "but people like to see a celebrity in a show.

"I cast Samantha because she was so right for the part, with added value in terms of PR for the panto. However, all of the PR and razzamatazz doesn't matter if you don't have a first-class show."

"The Olympia's Jedward and the Beanstalk panto was written with the boys completely in mind," he added.

Promoter Pat Egan, who got Jedward into the Olympia last year, said: "The Gaiety used to be THE panto, but in the past two years Jedward have taken them out.

"The success of the panto was 100pc down to the popularity of the boys. Believe me, if there were 10 Jedwards around, there wouldn't be any recession."

The Olympia's run was much shorter, with only 34 performances over two weeks, and there wasn't a seat to be had at the Dame Street venue, where prices ranged from €22 to €32 a ticket. On that basis, based on Mr Egan's estimate, somewhere in the region of 47,000 tickets were sold. He said he hadn't "a clue" about profits from the show yet.

"By the time you pay Ticketmaster, the theatre, the cast and the rest of it, including the newspaper ads, there isn't a lot left," he said.

The huge costs involved in putting on a panto were echoed by Karl Broderick, who alongside his husband and TV3 star Alan Hughes, has been putting on the panto at the 447-seater Tivoli Theatre for the past 14 years. This year's production of Sleeping Beauty, which ends its run tonight, was a sellout.

"The overheads are huge," said Karl, adding how thrilled he was at the success of the show, where standard tickets cost €29.50. "You have to put it on with the aim of packing it out. The advertising costs are massive," he said.

The show hit a minor speedbump when model Georgia Salpa pulled out -- but her sudden departure also provided acres of publicity.

Sunday Independent