Further to our previous article taking in the history of Castlebar Pantomime from 1951 to 1965 and to coincide with the revived Castlebar Pantomimes 20th Anniversary in January 2005 we take up the history of this local tradition from its revival in 1986 up to 1990.
1987 Cinderella - Frank Forde & Sean Lyons as the Ugly sisters with Geraldine McHale as Cinderella.
The start of the 1980s saw a resurge of interest in live stage shows in Castlebar which was largely due to the No Name Club and The Tops of the Towns competition. But by the mid-eighties the No Name Clubs melted away and interest had waned in entering teams into the "Tops". This fact was being discussed during a rail journey shared by Stephen Burns, who was involved in the Davitt House Tops of the Towns team, and one Fr. Desmond Fahey. Stephen Burns spoke about the old Pantomimes of the 1950s and 1960s and suggested, that to revive the Pantomime tradition would be a good way to incorporate all talents from the different groups in Castlebar. Fr. Fahey who was no stranger to directing shows, among them a Pioneer Association production of "Cough Water", agreed with the idea. But, an idea it stayed, well, that is Until November 1984, when he met up with Sean Lyons with the intention of discussing a new framework for a "Tops" show. Once again the conversation repeated itself, but this time with Sean Lyons suggesting that a revival of Castlebar Pantomime could open many new opportunities for local people to again enjoy being involved in a live stage production.
During 1985, a round up of the usual drama suspects was arranged, pros and cons discussed, original scripts considered and discarded, suggestions as to who might do what put forward and the idea of performing a Pantomime began to become quite a possibility. By September 1985 Fr Des Fahey and Sean Lyons awakened the dormant Castlebar Pantomime with a kitty of 50 pounds, their hearts in their mouths and many prayers being answered thanks to Fr. Des's connections.
Little did the people of Castlebar think, that when they left the Castlebar Pantomime production of "Aladdin" in 1965, that they would have to wait 21 years before the red curtains of the Town Hall would once again drift open to reveal the wonders of Pantomime with "Dick Whittington" in 1986. But, little did anyone involved with that production realise, that with the forthcoming "Panto At The OK Corral", Castlebar Pantomime would be celebrating its 20th Anniversary in 2005. For a local, live, amateur tradition it is a remarkable achievement.
"Dick Whittington" was, naturally, produced by Fr Des Fahey and Sean Lyons who left nothing to chance and enlisted Kevin McNicholas as assistant producer. Not only was our Kevin a talented musician, but was no stranger to producing shows – with many a Davitt College musical under his belt. Ann Tobin temporarily left her vocation as beautician and was drafted as choreographer, Frankie Waldron became musical director, Reg Smyth of Davitt College displayed his skills as set designer which Dave Murphy, Tony Donegan, Des Byrne, John Joe Goggins, Des Hennelly, John McHugh and Norma Gibbons converted into the most magical of stages. Members of Castlebar and Westport bands provided a joint venture into top class musical performances. Children as rats, teddy bears and Indians joined the more mature ladies and gentlemen of the chorus on stage with Mary Donegan and Nan Monaghan performing as soloists.
1989 Little Red Riding Hood - Clare Kenny as Bo Beep, Alison Ruane as Red Riding Hood & Chorus.
The cast introduced the magic of pantomime to a new generation of children of which few had experienced anything like it before. Not only did the children enjoy the show, they became completely involved. They became involved to the point where pandemonium broke out... Dick Whittington played by Adrian Gavin was being banished due to a missing necklace being found in his possessions but really it was the King Rat played by Margaret Igoe who had stolen it. The children in the audience went wild! Most of them were standing on seats roaring their defence of the injustice done to Dick Whittington to the principal actors on the stage. The script was continued almost in mime form while the children shouted "It was the rat" until; King Rat (Margaret Igoe) frightened the kids so much that for weeks later they used to shy away from her on the street.
Monica Masterson also left her mark on the 1986 production when she appeared dressed as Dolly Parton. Holding nothing back, she did a number called "Hey Big Enda" while singing to a life-size doll in a well cut Gentleman’s suit, with a curiously familiar well groomed head of fair hair! Thanks to Monica Masterson and Delia Queenan, so began the Castlebar Pantomime tradition of "The Parody".
Adrian Gavin, David Tuomey, Seamus King, Clare Kenny, Bernie Igoe, Frank Forde, Michael Devanney, Mary Kelly, Pat O'Donnell, Joe O'Grady, Padraig Larkin and George Lally completed the cast of Dick Whittington and many of them actually returned year after year, discovering that there is no cure for the Panto Bug.
Following the success of "Dick Whittington", Fr Fahey knew no fear. That was until the carefully rehearsed script for the 1987 production of "Cinderella" nightly dissolved in the hands of Sean Lyons and Frank Ford as the Ugly Sisters Bedelia and Beducky. But whatever effect this had on poor Fr. Des, the effect they had on Cinderella played by Geraldine McHale was infinitely worse. The fact that Geraldine knew the script, had little bearing on the show as she nightly headed into unknown territory with lines being changed constantly by the very Ugly Sisters! Overlooking this, the Ugly Sisters were an amazing team who caused a riot on stage as audiences applauded their wit or booed their treatment of the poor Cinderella. The hall descended into a frenzy of booing when the large frames of the Ugly Sisters tore up the dainty Cinderella's invitation to the ball. But, when you consider Cinderella won the heart of Prince Charming, played by Adrian Gavin, had a Fairy Godmother played by Bernie Igoe, also had good friends played by Clare Kenny and Marina Rice, could always confide in Buttons played by Liam Connell, got to know Dandini played by Michael Devanney and did eventually get the ball, we all know she did alright in the end!
Also involved in 1987 were 91 members of the Chorus, which included an array of Villagers, Gingerbread Men, Fairies, Ballroom Guests and Gypsies. Choreography as devised by Paul Kilcoyne, Frances Lally and Ms Monica Masterson. It is claimed that "Reet Petite" featuring Monica, Paul Kilcoyne and Siobhan Everard could be claimed to be the liveliest dance preformed of any Pantomime before or since!
There was a changing of the Guard in the 1988 Production of "Aladdin" with Kevin McNicholas and Mary Lenihan taking over as Producers. Sean Lyons appeared as Widow Twankey while Fr Des Fahey wanted to be more involved with the fine work of the stage crew, who were overseen by Des Byrne. Tom Burke became Musical Director, assisted by Louise Donlon, Frankie Waldron obtained the fancy title of choral director and choreography again was in the hands of Paul Kilcoyne and Monica Masterson. Dave "The Rave" Murphy as he was fondly christened by Clare Kenny illuminated the Panto stage and transformed the cold, dark Town Hall stage into a bright tropical island or magical cave full of glittering treasure.
All things were fair on the panto stage and that included politics! A pretend issue of a local paper was drafted for the show of which its headline read - "Kenny weds pop star Madonna as Flynn suffers cut back". This included a photo of Enda Kenny and Madonna with a second photo of a caricature of Padraig Flynn. Due to the fact that Padraig Flynn was a Castlebar Pantomime Dame during the 1960s (and by all reports an excellent one at that) and that Enda Kenny regularly to this day attends pantomime productions (and takes all that is thrown at him in the best humour), these two Political Gentlemen took this piece of Panto slagging in the manner it was intended - pure jest. In fact both Padraig and Enda bravely accepted an invitation to join Frank Forde and Sean Lyons and Mary McHale on stage while attending the show that year. Enda Kenny made it back to his seat (Town Hall one that is) unscathed but, it's a matter of opinion how Padraig Flynn fared. Mr Flynn while on stage and clutching the handle of a brush was asked by Frank Forde at gun-point (pretend of course - it is Panto), did he renounce Charlie Haughey and all his evil ways? The former Panto star replied "Yes Francis" and years later perhaps he did.
Aladdin that year was played by Evelyn Galvin Byrne with Stephen Guthrie as Wishee Washee. Siobhan Everard brilliantly played the evil Abanazar while Stephen Burns played a very unhelpful Vizier with a very spoilt son Prince Pekoe played by Marina Rice. Clare Kenny and Lar Davis played the Emperor and Empress with Mary Donegan as their daughter Princess Say Wen. Mary McHale and Frank Forde appeared as bungling police types Bamboo and Typhoo. A mention must be made of Frank Forde's pet hen Patricia, who was decked out in an absolutely tiny Garda hat for her passing out parade from Templemore as part of a typically unscripted Castlebar Panto performance.
Unfortunately, the year 1989 saw Sean Lyons exchange the view of the sun descending behind Croagh Patrick to a different view of the world from Australia and Fr Fahey's duties led him to Knock but not before he had helped audition the cast. Although their support was sorely missed, the show did go on with another production by Kevin McNicholas and Mary Lenihan with "Little Red Riding Hood". Title role was played by Panto new comer Alison Ruane. New to Panto and at the time the youngest person to take a principal role, but not new to the stage. Alison had like so many others appeared in the Davitt College Musicals. One of the bravest appearances by any man in Castlebar was made by one Mr Seamus King who appeared as The Dowager Fairy Dutiful. Words alone could not describe this star of the local rugby team bedecked as a fairy. So we will move on to mention Panto newcomers Colette McGinty who played Demon Sheerspite and Loretta Morris soon to become O'Malley, who played Baa The Sheep to Brian Murphy’s Baa Baa The Sheep. Of course what good Panto sheep would be seen without her nibs Little Bo Beep played by Clare Kenny.
The Squires Banquet gave the chorus a wonderful opportunity to appear in formal dress that would be worthy of any period drama, ball gowns and ruffled cravats ruled supreme. The junior chorus were not to be out done as they preformed an extremely high kicking version of the Can-Can but in keeping with their age - in Minnie Mouse cheer leader attire.
What Panto would be complete without the bad guys? These in 1989 were provided by Stephen Burns as Sir False Hood, Siobhan Everard as Hardy Hood and Stephen Guthrie as Foolhardy Hood. On the good guys’ side was Liam Connell as Prince Florizel, Dave Tuomey as Poppet, Margaret Igoe as The Grandmother and Bernie Igoe as Lupe The Wolf wasn't too sure whose side she was on.
In 1990, "Ole King Cole" was produced by Adrian Gavin who celebrated the success of the show by being dressed as a Roman Emperor at the after show fancy dress party. Credit where credit was due it was a marvellous show including guest appearances from Sean Lyons (he couldn't stay away), David Duffy and Tanya Morahan. Again, the choreography was a major strength of the show with Monica Masterson, Michael and Toni Devanney putting the cast through their paces.
While the chorus was down in numbers compared to previous years, the quality of their performances made up for the quantity of chorus members. The Man in the Moon was played by Padraic Murray who literally hovered above the rest of the cast as a cut out of a half moon. He wore an inflatable costume which the cast thoroughly enjoyed deflating at every opportunity causing the encased smoke to be squirted straight into his face. Needless to say, his feet never had to leave the ground! Tony Donegan finally escaped from Aladdin’s cave where he played the Mummy and left the safety of the back stage crew to go on stage as Windbag, The Lord Chamberlain.
New comers to the Principal roles included Fiona Cashin as Viola, Tom Howley as Robin, Pat Farrelly as Melancholy, Joan Howley as The Demon King, with Vincent Gillespie and Tom McGrath as The Guards. The Bank of Ireland give Tony Hiney a short release to play Ole King Cole while his three wives were played by Mary McHale, Clare Kenny and Colette McGinty. These ladies sang an inimitable version of the 12 days of Christmas which included references to the then "new" Library, "new" ring road and the famous Mr Willie Joe Padden also had got a mention.
No show would ever materialise without the quiet contributions of so many involved in stage construction, painting, sound, lighting, special effects, costumes, programmes, posters, make up, box office and the all important prompt. To all of you, a huge thank you from the cast of Castlebar Pantomime from 1951 to date, your results are amazing.
If any further material is available regarding the Panto years from 1951 to 2004 please forward to Sharon Lavelle at Flannelly Insurance’s, Market Square, Castlebar. Or, contact her at 094) 9023193. All documents will be copied and safely returned as a history of Castlebar Pantomime is currently being complied in a website format. The assistance of the public, former Pantomime members or their families would be most appreciated in recording this unique local tradition. Any additional material for the Pantomime history, memories, photos, media cuttings etc. can now also be forwarded by e-mail to email@example.com
Further Information about Castlebar Pantomime on the Web:
Castlebar Pantomime Photo Gallery
Links to more Photos and some Audio and Video Material