Saturday 17 March 2018

Leading Ladies (and Gentleman!) of Irish Panto Season

June Rogers, Zena Donnelly, Nadia Forde, Linda Martin and Liam Butler. Photo: Mark Nixon
June Rogers, Zena Donnelly, Nadia Forde, Linda Martin and Liam Butler. Photo: Mark Nixon
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

Linda Martin

Gaston's mother Moron

We have two shows a day for 17 days, and between performances our food is brought in, the kettle goes on, we get into our onesies and watch a DVD or have the craic.

The door to the dressing room stays open and everyone comes in and out, so we know who's in love from the night before, and who fancies who, and there's a lovely buzz. John and Edward, aka Jedward, are the stars, and they're 22 now.

They're getting a little older, maybe not so much wiser, but they're amazing and I just love them.

I'm only off Christmas Eve and Christmas Day this year, and there's just Ronan and me for dinner this Christmas. I'm not a good cook and very rarely eat meat, so Marks and Sparks gets a visit beforehand.

See Linda and Jedward in The Dublin Bus Christmas Panto, 'Beauty and the Beast', from December 18 to January 5 at the Olympia Theatre.

Zena Donnelly (11)


I love playing Annie, and the dog playing Sandy is called Poppy. She's very well-trained and absolutely gorgeous, but there's a scene where I have to keep calling her, and she isn't allowed to come to me until about the fifth time. We'll have to see how that works out!

The best thing that happened to me on stage was when I was seven, and Whitney Houston invited me up to sing with her in the O2. I couldn't believe it when she died. I was very sad.

My parents are called Darina and Declan, and I have an older brother, Ryan, who is nearly 15, and a brother Max, who died when he was 10 months old (Zena's parents founded the charity, Baby Max -- Wings of Love Fund). We usually invite the whole family to our house for a feast on Christmas Day.

See Zena and Poppy with Tony Finnegan as Daddy Warbucks in 'Annie' at the National Concert Hall from December 27 to January 3, including matinee and evening performances. Tickets from

Liam Butler

Dame Lola Smiles

This is the first time I've played a lady on stage. Some pantos go for a very camp, effeminate dame, and it's almost like a drag act, but I always think the dame should look like a truck driver/biker dressed as a woman.

Playing this character has given me sympathy for women with the eyelashes and make-up.

I live in Carrick-on-Suir, so I'll get home for three days over Christmas. My wife, Breda, will be minding the homestead when I'm off gallivanting. Our daughters, Odharnith (27) and Ciara (24), are both in Australia.

I was called after my late uncle, the singer Liam Clancy, who was my mother's brother.

Once, when I was understudy for the third lead in 'Aspects of Love' in the Olympia, the actor got sick during a performance and I had to go on in act two. They never rehearsed us, and the character I was playing died 10 minutes before the end, and boy, was I glad to get that heart attack!

See Liam and George McMahon, aka Fair City's Mondo, in 'Sleeping Beauty' at The Helix Theatre, Dublin, from November 29 to January 12. Tickets from

June Rodgers

Lady Gaga, Xmas Tree and many more

I play 20 characters on stage, including Cher, Christy Moore, Elvis and Angela Merkel and, of course, the old favourite, Jacinta O'Brien.

The costume changes are so quick that sometimes I only have one minute to get out of one and into the next.

I've just finished Brendan O'Carroll's film, 'Mrs Brown's Boys: D'Movie', playing Fat Annie, the same character I played in 'Agnes Browne'. It was great fun. The crew said they had never worked on such a happy film and that is all down to Brendan.

The funniest thing that ever happened to me on stage was when a hotel guest fell asleep in the bath after a few jars, and water started coming through the ceiling on to the stage during the show. About six managers had to run up to his room and pull out the plug!

June and her eight dancers star in 'The June Rodgers Christmas Show', which opened last night and will run until December 29 at the Red Cow Moran Hotel, and the Silver Springs, Cork, on January 3 and 4. Tickets from 01-459 3650.

Nadia Forde

Cupid the Fairy

Although l'm still a model, things have changed in the past few months for me, and I'm being seen more as a performer or singer, which is great.

It was nerve-wracking singing the national anthem, 'Amhran na bhFiann', at the Aviva Stadium, but it was one of the best moments of the year for me and an honour and opportunity that I couldn't turn down.

I get such a buzz from being on stage, but singing in a stadium is a different level again -- the atmosphere was electric.

I've wanted to do panto for a long time, but maybe I doubted myself and didn't have the confidence, so opening night last year was brilliant. Being here today makes me wish I'd started sooner, as I would have loved to play Annie.

See Nadia, Alan Hughes, Michele McGrath and Bryan Murray in The Cheerios Panto, 'Jack and The Beanstalk -- Starring Sammy Sausages', at the Tivoli Theatre, Dublin, twice daily, from December 11 to January 12. Tickets from

Irish Independent

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