To coincide with Castlebar Pantomime as it celebrates its 20th Anniversary with a production of "Panto At The OK Corral", we continue to look back into the history of this local tradition from 1996 to 2000.Previously we reviewed the Castlebar Pantomime years from 1951 to 1965 and followed with the revived Castlebar Pantomime’s history from 1986 up to its 10th Anniversary in 1995.
1n 1996 the Pantomime Committee decided that it was no longer realistic to expect one person to direct and produce the annual Castlebar Pantomime. The success and growth of the shows over 11 years required that the responsibility for different areas should be taken up by a production team instead of one exhausted individual. No strangers to a challenge, Nan Monaghan, Clare Kenny and Garry Wynne answered the call and together Produced "Sinbad and The Vampire". Clare Kenny left no one under any illusions as to who was one of the bosses that year, with "Bainsteoir" emblazoned on her sweatshirt!
A fourth but unofficial member of this production team was Ms Gypsy Kenny, the trusted canine companion of Mistress Clare Kenny. Gypsy contributed to rehearsals by barking when the chorus went off key and keeping the cast in check when they missed a line. Gypsy herself was no stranger to the stage after successfully appearing in the suitably titled "Gypsy Scene" in another year’s panto! In an interview with the then PRO Ann Melvin later that year, Gypsy confided that while she thanked Clare Kenny for introducing her to the stage, she was terribly embarrassed that Mammy Clare had made her wear the Mayo colours around her neck all summer even after we lost the re-play in 1996!
Audiences came and went but one of the best performances that year was to an audience of about eight people on the first Sunday night. The weather that year was severe and roads were hazardous; but even though the hall was almost empty the show went on. Casts through out the years are reminded before each show, that whether there are two or two hundred people out there, everyone is entitled to the same show in the same professional manner. By God those guys saw the best performance that week! To this day no one is quite sure how the hall and stage intertwined into such a magical show or how the standard jokes became even more hilarious to the assembled audience and cast alike. It was like a story line from a soppy American Christmas film where everything went well and everyone went home happy despite the odds stacked against them.
Michael Devanney created make up miracles that year as he created Count Draculation played by James Mannion and his two wives Rhesus Positive and Rhesus Negative played by Michelle Monaghan and Anne Kerrigan. White face paint, black eye liner and blue eyelids and cheekbones successfully created the Vampire look. It took a lot of make up, but at least it was mostly white and came off quickly.
Karen Conway who played the part of Sulatonkina, an extremely darkened Guardian of a South Seas Island did not fare so well. Michael Devanney covered her face in black face paint leaving her eye and mouth area in white and painted fluorescent tribal designs in brilliant colours around her forehead and cheeks. The overall effect of a character dressed head to toe in black and animal print with six-inch heels, wearing a four foot high head dress was stunning visually. But while it took about twenty five minutes to complete the make up, it took well over an hour to successfully remove it. Which meant that poor Karen was still sitting in the Town Hall dressing room removing make up while the rest of the cast were comfortably sitting down to last orders in Coady's!
Garry Wynne was not only part of the production team but, also appeared as the Dame, Mother Salubria. Garry's costume will always appear in the annals of pantomime as the most inventive. Garry wanted to appear as credible a Dame as any that graced the stage of the Town Hall. Garry completed his costume with his Mothers apron, painted Dock Martens, an extreme of green eye shadow, red wig, larger than life red lips and a brazier cleverly padded with jelly which moved and wobbled at every opportunity Garry could muster!
Castlebar Pantomime PRO Ann Melvin made the discovery of the 1990s when she convinced GMIT students Adrian Long, Sean Duffy, Keith Keily, Mark O'Malley, Padraic Duffy and Vincent Durcan to join the senior chorus. The lads were nicknamed Boyzone by the cast and the boy band themselves had serious competition. Each time the GMIT lads appeared on stage, the audience went wild and screamed out their names. The audience reaction was both hilarious and deafening as the week progressed, to the point where people were making return journeys to see them and the music they were dancing to could at times not be heard.
The comedy duo for "Sinbad and The Vampire" was Mary McHale and Sharon Lavelle playing two sailors Red Rudolf and Whitey Snow. In one scene the two girls who were playing two men, appeared as two men pretending to be two women! Confused? So were both Sharon and Mary. Sharon Lavelle's costume gave Madonna a run for her money that year, proof of which can be seen on the Castlebar Pantomime website! (In relation to this site, due to the fact there is limited information; if anyone has material on a previous production of "Sinbad and The Vampire" in approx 1965 please contact Sharon Lavelle as mentioned at the end of this article.)
The brave hero was played by Walter Donoghue who drew the blinds on ever again appearing as an animal after his role as Daddy Bear in Goldilocks and quite happily sailed into the title role of Sinbad. His romantic interest was played by Panto newcomer Jennifer Hopkins who played Selina, the daughter of the captain of the Crested Dolphin played by the petite Padraic Murray. Padraic, God bless him, put in a Trojan performance but the lines at the end of the show, which explained the whole plot, nightly eluded him. For old time’s sake Padraic -.... the birds started to sing around the castle, flowers popped up......
But Padraic was not the only one having trouble with his lines as the man himself reminded us. Here is his own version of helping out a fellow actor during "Sinbad and The Vampire" - "On the Third or fourth night when all were comfortable with their lines .... one man came on stage as the Lord Chamberlain. He was to describe how the Captain's daughter was captured and taken away so that Captain Colombo and Sinbad could be the heroes and rescue her in 1996 "Sinbad and The Vampire".
Unfortunately when softening of the tongue happens as a result of Coady's, the lines did not come to mind so, the Captain (Padraig Murray) helped out as follows : "A stranger you say" says the Captain, " Ah, yes" replied the Lord Chamberlain. "A stranger with a nice piece of carpet perhaps" the Captain suggested. "Oh yes" replied the Lord Chamberlain. "Don't tell me he rolled it out and invited the Princess and my daughter to step on it" suggested the Captain. "Why, yes" replied the Lord Chamberlain. At this stage the captain volunteered the Lord Chamberlain his lines which he gratefully accepted, "Now after me .... No sooner had she stepped on the carpet, it rose in the air and brought the ....." The rescue was swift and the audience were glad, but not as glad as the Lord Chamberlain!
To complete the cast there was Jason Guthrie who played Prince Rory. Jason might be a wonderful choreographer but by 1996, he was developing a reputation in Panto Land as the guy who kept losing his princesses and expecting other people to go and get her back! Sinbad and Co. with the help of Muscles played by Donna Ruane whose only prop was a bottle and Lar Davis as Lord Chamberlain, who did not need Clare Kenny to prompt as he had Padraic Murray; all went off in search of Princess Aisling played by Debbie Lester who was kidnapped by the Vampire and brought to the South Sea Island. When all of this was discovered, Prince Rory sent the crew of the Crested Dolphin off to rescue her, which brings us back to the start of this paragraph.
Where would this cast be without the efforts of the talented guys and gals behind the scenes? Des Byrne as stage manager made sure that all was ship shape with his crew of Joe O'Grady, Mick Monaghan, Andrew Monaghan, Martin Lydon, Robert Cunningham, Tom McGrath, Aiden Browne Monica Masterson and Marina Rice. Des had a second gifted crew in the area of set design and painting with James Mannion, Marie Brinklow and Marina Rice. Dave Murphy and Tom Jennings had a similarly talented lighting and special effects crew in Edin Christie, Brian Mannion, Mary G. Martyn and again Robert Cunningham. Costume department comprised of Marina Rice, Della O'Grady, Fiona Kilbane and Patsy Gaughan. The cast’s faces became canvases for the make up department with Ann Cresham, Michael Devanney, Sharon Blake and Irene Gillespie being the artists.
Although things have changed today, in the Town Hall days of panto, shows would begin with a Sunday matinee and evening show, then there was Monday night, a break on Tuesday (as God himself would not dare to interrupt Bingo), nightly shows from Wednesday to a further matinee on Sunday with the close of show on Sunday night. This resulted in an exhausting nine shows in eight days with the majority of cast on stage also completing full days at school or work.
In 1997 we saw the return of the 1996 production team as they brought "Cinderella" to the Town Hall stage. "Cinderella" was previously presented by Castlebar Pantomime in 1987, 1960 and way back in 1951. The title role of "Cinderella" was played by Anne Kerrigan who cleverly enlisted the help of her sister Lisa Kerrigan to act as her stand in during the all-important changing from rags to riches scene. Garry Wynne found the role he spent his life rehearsing for when he glided into the part of Cinderella's Prince Charming. Michelle Monaghan who had previously played the part of a fairy while in the junior chorus of 1987 was promoted to the role of Cinderella's friend Sally. Sharon Lavelle gladly accepted the part of Fairy Godmother which allowed her to gracefully move onto the stage rather than be in the undignified position of being dragged on in a basket as she had been during "Sinbad and The Vampire". Walter Donoghue downed his curtain hooks and took up the role of Buttons, while Sean Duffy "welcomed" the role of Dandini. But as in any panto tale where there are good guys, the bad guys are usually on the other side of the stage.
Maisy and Daisy, The Ugly Sisters, were played by James Mannion and Mary McHale who were despised by the younger members of the audience for their unfair treatment of poor Cinderella. The Ugly Sisters made their way to the stage in a rather unorthodox manner. James Mannion as Maisie drove through the audience towards the stage on a genuine motorbike with Daisy played by Mary McHale peddling desperately on a push bike trying to keep up with him. The audience's reaction to the motor bike was one of hilarity, as none of them expected a motor bike to be driven in from the side corridor of the Town Hall to the stage complete with roaring engine, black smoke and being driven by a guy in a dress!
But the person for whom the audience had the greatest reaction to was Donna Ruane who played Baroness Delilah, Cinderella's Stepmother. Between make up and costume, Mr and Mrs Nat Ruane had difficulty in recognising their own daughter, but Donna's talent shone supreme and brought the house down each night. Baroness Delilah did not make life easy for Cinderella's father Baron Percival played by Michael Rice but a quick trip back to the Kingdom of Swinford to recharge his batteries, meant that Michael successfully saw Cinderella reach a happy ending. Last but not least the acting supremo Mr Lawrence J. Davis took a break from his Hollywood production schedule to appear as Major Domo. A fact that was remembered as he received yet another Oscar statuette that same year.
Back stage it was all go with the usual suspects, painting scenery, creating props, changing back drops, illuminating the stage, creating costumes, applying make up etc. Newcomers to this blur of activity were Brian Mannion, Martin Lydon, Philip Lydon, Robert Cunningham, Breege Farragher, Heather Heneghan, Kevin McNeela (Webster), Angela Leydon, Geraldine Heverin, Donna Rogan, Sarah Ward, Catherine Diskin, Chris Leonard, Niamh O'Neil, Elsie McTigue, Pat Tierney, George Moran, Joe O'Grady, Della O'Grady to name but a few. Des Byrne created a visual masterpiece with his creation of Cinderella's carriage. Basically constructed from wood and bolts from the back, from the audience's view point, it appeared to glide across the stage on free moving wheels and created a wonderful illusion of a true carriage worthy of any Princess on her way to a ball.
Having spent many an hour on stage learning her own lines, Donna Ruane found herself in 1998 as producer, having to learn every body else's lines as well. With the help of former producers Clare Kenny and Marina Rice at her disposal along with musical director Finola Higgins-Cosgrove and choreographer Jason Guthrie, Donna Ruane brought a spectacular version of "Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs" to the stage of the Town Hall. Playing the title role of Snow White was Ann Marie Wilmot who divided her time in 1998 between rehearsals, darts, Johnson Manufacturing and finding her own Prince Charming in the guise of Bucko's Inn Keeper Gerry McDonnell from the Kingdom of Snugboro.
The Seven Dwarfs were played by Thomas Jennings, Jessica Timlin, Ann Staunton, Robert Tuomey, Debrah McConway, Ruth Loftus and Arlene Murphy. Leaving nothing to chance Fergal Joyce was designated as understudy and rose to the occasion when his talents were called on as illness struck the Dwarfs. All credit is due to this young talented group of actors who while on stage, including the finale remained completely in character at all times. Sleepy continued to yawn, Grumpy stayed grumpy, Sneezy continued to sneeze....
Marina Rice took to the role of Queen Razeval with such credibility that Denise Roddy, who played Posy, later claimed that she was afraid of Marina while on stage until she got to know her better in the post rehearsal get togethers in Coady's. Perhaps Marina's students of Sancta Maria Convent in Louisburgh have a similar tale to tell. Queen Razeval spent a lot of her time talking to her magic mirror instead of looking into it. Playing one of her more unusual roles as a mirror of all things, was Karen Conway encased in a tall red velvet box, dressed in black with a large scarf covering her head while holding a green light under her face. The effect was intended to be something straight out of Disney, but to the audience it looked more like a green scan of a baby! The visuals may not have been as intended, but courtesy of the talents of Frankie McDonald the sound effects of the mirrors voice booming from every side of the Town Hall were very convincing. Too convincing for some, as a few parents had to leave the hall with some confused children, as they were frightened by the echoing voice of the scan, I mean mirror.
There was a double helping of comedy duos for "Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs" with Sharon Lavelle and Denise Roddy playing handmaids Cosy and Posy and John Gavin along with James Mannion playing the roles of Hairum and Scarum. This quartet’s version of "Momma Mia" is one that Castlebar Pantomime will always remember and which the quartet would much prefer to forget! Other memorable performances were provided by Ger Deere as the King of Fairyland with Ann Melvin as his Queen, Mary McHale who appeared as Dame Freznely, Wendy Cotter got to wear one of her own hand made costumes and appeared as Fairy Irene. Walter Donoghue was promoted to royalty as he played Prince Stefan of Colonya (I wonder if that is anywhere near Ballina?) and Padraic Heneghan's title brought him many miles away from his reputation in Ballintubber as he played the role of Baron Weakeneasy. The cast was completed by Darragh McHugh as the Huntsman, Breege Wilkins as the Messenger plus the senior and junior choruses.
Dorothy Gavin found herself in a very quiet house each Monday and Wednesday night as Husband John with children Kayleigh, Rory and Tara all made their way to weekly rehearsals. Not one to be left behind, Dorothy very kindly offered to help out with the junior members of the chorus for the week of the show which meant that all the family joined in on the panto fun for the week. The Gavin bunch won over the entire cast with their talent, good natures and John's dynamite wit.
A trio who have escaped mention until now have been the musical magicians who are John Flatley on Keyboards, Tom Lyons on Guitar and Seanie Burke very capably on drums. The antics of the folks on stage have often been overshadowed by the sneakiness of the aforementioned panto musicians. It is a little difficult to concentrate on your lines when you see three guys in front of you wearing rubber ducks on their heads or, huge glasses with even bigger eyes on them, P.45's being presented to certain cast members, watching mock walk outs by one or other of the band, being squirted by three water pistols when you are wearing a grass skirt or while trying to sing to music which slows down, speeds up or changes key without any warnings. Pantomime in the Town Hall just would not have been the same with out them and no show is ever complete unless Sean Burke calls in back stage at half time for a chat.
At the end of the millennium, 1999 saw "Old Mother Hubbard" being presented as the last Castlebar Pantomime of the 20th Century and the last show to close the doors of the Town Hall as we all knew it. The hall which was annually rented by Pantomime and other groups no longer catered adequately for the needs of those who gathered within its 18th Century walls. The Town Hall experienced few refurbishments since Lord Lucan presented it to the people of Castlebar. The hall was not in the best of health and that year neither was the cast of the Pantomime, Pleurisy, Bronchitis, Flus, Colds and Stomach bugs ruled the roost. It was an uncomfortable and uncertain time for all concerned.
But none of this was evident when the red curtains of the Town hall parted and the cast crawled on. The enthusiasm of Director Donna Ruane, Producer/Choreographer Jason Guthrie, Musical Director Finola Higgins-Cosgrove, Pantomime Committee and Nan Monaghan’s traditional prayer before the cast went on stage brought everyone together to perform at their very best. A special mention must be made of Ann Melvin, who played the role of Dandy the Dog, completely encompassed from head to toe in an acrylic costume. This resulted in many a litre of water being drunk by Ann due to the heat of costume and lights as well as a serious weight loss by the end of the week.
Senior and junior chorus was kitted out as cowboys and Indians with feathers, bows and arrows created by Des Byrne and the Western Care Vocational Training Centre under the guidance of Claire Mason. Stephen Guthrie appeared in the title role of Mother Hubbard with the Brother and Sister team of Brenda and Walter Donoghue as her children Polly and Hughie. In yet another twisting of traditional tales, the Mother Hubbard story as we know it was abandoned when she was evicted and transported to the Wild West by the Good Fairy to search for her long lost brother who it was hoped would save them from their life of poverty.
Sharon Lavelle and Mary McHale repeated their comedy duo role of "Sinbad" to appear as The Bailiffs. You would not normally find a Good Fairy in a western but seeing as how this is Panto, Ann Marie Wilmott found herself alternating between being an Indian and a fairy quite frequently. Denise Roddy put all her standards as WHB Health Inspector behind her when she appeared as the very rough and ready Old Tumbleweed. Always the good guy, Padraic Heneghan played Tex Laramie who stood up to the baddies played by Michael Rice, John Gavin and Donna Ruane.
Marina Rice clearly enjoyed her role as saloon owner Miss Lulabelle and many a male member of the audience enjoyed watching Marina and her girls Rowena Gillespie, Jessica McGing, Reineke Smit and Ann Marie Wilmot as they preformed The Can Can. Mind you the other dancers in the Chorus Emer Joyce, Mary McIntyre, Orla Quinn, Karen Conway, Kathy Healy, Wendy Cotter and Sharon Lavelle looked pretty good as well as they "danced the night away" in "Viva Forever". Jason Guthrie and John Tolan could hardly be called pretty but their dancing abilities clearly shone that year, they must have had some line-dancing practice along the way, All-Ireland standard dancing at that!
The Indians were represented by Little Deer played by Debbie Lester, her father Chief Thundercloud played by APC's finest Des Gilsenan with Fergal Joyce as his son Little Drizzle. The cast was completed by Jimmy Murphy as Major Day and Karen Conway juggling the chorus with appearing as the Medicine Man.
Michael Devanney and Anne Kerrigan had moved onto new stages in 1999. Castlebar Pantomime left its traditional home in the Town Hall in January 1999 with high hopes of returning to revamped facilities and a modern stage. Little did we know as we celebrated another successful run of a show that we too would be moving to a new and different stage.
The new millennium threat of the Y2K virus came and went as well as the hopes of Castlebar Pantomime that the Town Hall would be finished in time for September rehearsals. Enter Pat Jennings who became Pantomime’s Fairy Godmother ensuring that the cast did get to the ball. Pat Jennings was no stranger to the panto scene having appeared in many of the Pantomimes of the 1980s which resulted in "Dick Turpin" being presented as the first show of the revamped Royal Theatre in 2000. The supposedly temporary move was enjoyed as a change of scene, the expanse of stage was enthusiastically welcomed, the sound and lighting possibilities seemed endless, auditions were held and the 15th Anniversary show was on its way. The 2000 show saw Marina Rice as Director, Jason Guthrie as Choreographer/Producer, John Tolan as Assistant Choreographer and the return of Finola Higgins-Cosgrove as Musical Director.
The title role of "Dick Turpin" was played by Panto new comer, the "electric" Bryan Deacy. Some where along the line it was decided that Bryan's ginger tresses may not look the part for a dashing highway man. Being a professional he is, Bryan traded his strawberry blonde looks inherited from his Mother Marion to appear as the very tall, darkened and still handsome highway man "Dick Turpin".
Appearing as his girlfriend Caroline was Karen Conway who followed the panto tradition of being kidnapped by the bad guys, resulting in chaos etc. etc. But this was one panto role where the Damsel in distress was not going to hang around and wait to be rescued. With the help of Katie Cuddlesome played by Sharon Lavelle, both girls managed to escape from the evil Parson Goodfellow played by Michael Rice and his two henchmen Smash and Grab played by Kilkelly's Aine McAndrew and Ballyvarry's Michael Tolan.
Padraic Heneghan studied long and hard to portray a convincing intoxicated judge. While John Gavin had little difficulty in playing the role of Lord Lotaloot - we always knew that John was to the manor born, a regular gent at all times. Stephen Guthrie and Ann Melvin played two none too bright constables Nick and Nab. With Denise Roddy playing the role of Dame Dollop complete with the largest chicken drum stick to grace any stage, courtesy of prop master Peter Finn who also appeared as a ghost. Another disguised appearance was made by Fiona Kilbane and Wendy Cotter as Daisy The Cow. Just as well that these two ladies get along well, as no one else that year had to mooooved in unison quite so closely together.
Walter Donoghue had a "ripping performance as Billy Bumpkin! Poor Billy was falsely accused of being Dick Turpin who he impersonated to win the heart of Katie Cuddlesome. In the course of show during a 21st party, Billy Bumpkin discovers that the evil Parson has stolen the jewels which he had Dick Turpin blamed for. While attempting to raise the alarm, Billy is thrown towards the fireplace by the evil Parson. Too many nights of being thrown caused a bit of tension in the seat of Walter’s costume, which resulted in an unexpected rip in the proceedings. Realising what happened, Walter spent the rest of the scene firmly seated in a chair refused to get off it. Cast on stage realising what had happened chased him around the stage to try and part him from the chair so to reveal his plight to the audience. Walter was having none of it and managed to leave the stage, chair glued to the seat of his ripped trousers and his modesty intact.
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.
Panto Programmes: The 2005 25th Anniversary Panto Programme which includes a comprehensive history of Castlebar Pantomime from 1951 to 2005, is available from Wynne's Newsagents, Main Street, Castlebar at ?4.
© Copyright 2003 by www.castlebar.ie and the author