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 1991 to its 10th Anniversary in 1995.
Previously we reviewed the Castlebar Pantomime years from 1951 to 1965 and followed with the revived Castlebar Pantomimes history from 1986 to 1990. "Jack and The Beanstalk" was the 1991 production, produced by Adrian Gavin; choral director was Netta Kennedy and choreography by Monica Masterson, Jason Guthrie, Toni and Michael Devanney. panto legend has it that, Jason Guthrie watched his first Pantomime in 1986 on his Mother's knee and swore as he left "Dick Whittington", that next year he would be on stage. Never one to break a promise, Jason joined the chorus from 1987 to 1990 but, 1991 saw him step into his future role as pantomime choreographer. A role, which he has annually continued to the present day, in an unending array of dance moves patiently, taught to 100's of members of the adult and junior chorus alike.
Of course you could not mention Jason without also mentioning, his friend of many of many years, Rowena Gillespie who also joined Castlebar Pantomime in 1987. Rowena like Jason has been in each pantomime since 1987 except of course, for exam years where it is a Castlebar Pantomime policy that those members taking part in exams are excused for that year. There will always be another pantomime but you only get one shot at the Junior or Leaving Cert, has always been the rule!
Frank Forde dived into his role as Dame Durden with his usual enthusiasm and many a principal on stage was left wondering where the script had disappeared to as Frank ad-libbed at speed before them. Some people never knew how to bring him back to familiar lines. But not so Clare Kenny as Fairy Evergreen, who one night on stamped her foot and yelled "Shut up Frank!" which silenced the usually vocal Mr. Forde mid ad-lib.
Even Frank Forde could not compete with the unexpected star of "Jack and The Beanstalk"; Daisy The Cow stole the show. But, when you consider that he was up against the joint if disguised talents of Tony Hiney and Brendan Heneghan, what hope did poor Frank have? No doubt they showed him how to milk the system financially and how to live the health shop way of life as an act of compensation. The second duo to provide a larger than life role, were Tony Varley and Sean Mulroy as The Two Headed Giant Blunderbore. Tony has still maintained his role as Islandeady N.S. Head, while Sean headed off to the brighter theatre lights of the big city following their close association in tormenting poor Jack played by Liam Connell.
The WHB's finest speech therapists found a new outlet for their skills, when Colette McGinty and Loretta O'Malley appeared as Sir Bertram Bubble and Sir Sydney Squeak. Their own parents would have had difficulty in identifying these two lovely lassies on stage due to their well fitting beards!
Marina Rice played the part of Jumping Joan which involved her spending the entire show (or as much of it as she physically could) literally jumping around while delivering her lines in the professional manner only our Marina could achieve. While researching this, Marina looked back on the role with mixed memories. Although she was never as fit in her life, her aching muscles were a tough price to pay for getting rid of the Christmas pounds....
Another lady who survived the panto stage was one Joanne Kyne who played Princess Felicia. There may have been no Prince Charming in "Jack and The Beanstalk" but Joanne landed herself a Prince of a Saw Doctor who "used ta love her" singing on the "N17". Joanne and her Saw Doctor got married and lived happily ever after in the Kingdom of Tuam.
Other principals in 1991 included Dave Tuomey as Simple Simon, with Lar Davis as yes you guessed it, the Pie Man and Michael Devanney who played Demon Pestblight with his usual flair for being the bad guy in the finest of costumes which he created himself. There was never an end to Michael's talents!
In 1992 we saw Tony Hiney leave his role as Daisy the Cow behind him as he and Marina Rice "moooved" into the roles of producers of "Sleeping Beauty". The title role of "Sleeping Beauty" was played by Orla Healy who proved that having a doctor in the house was a great cure for any thirteen-year-old, who was juggling school with a principal role in Pantomime.
It was commented by many a Damsel in the Chorus of "Sleeping Beauty", that Brian Murphy as the King of Palladia (also known as Rathbawn), possessed the finest pair of legs ever seen to grace a doublet and tights. Ann Melvin followed her dreams to appear on stage and in only her second year of panto secured the role of Tilly the Royal Nurse. Another brave soul to leave the security of the chorus was Pat Jennings as The Herald. Little did Pat consider in 1992, that he would progress from treading the boards of the Town Hall, to having world class acts tread the boards of his very own Royal Theatre.
Two panto veterans took on the roles of An Old Villager and A Very Ancient Villager. Nothing unusual about that, but only in panto land could Stephen Guthrie and Lar Davis carry off the roles of 700-year-old villager and his youngster son of only 500 years. Darina Molloy carried on a panto tradition started by her uncle Mat Armstrong in the Panto's of the 50's and 60's and threw herself into her first principal role as the Dame. Darina as Mother Broome fends off the jealous Royal Nurse to secure herself The Lord Chamberlain himself, Mr. Michael Devanney. Mary McHale and Clare Kenny played the bungling guards Pip and Pop with Emer Gillard and Louise Cresham as their adoring girlfriends Lola and Lila. An Oscar winning performance by Emer and Louise considering the material they had to fall in love with!
The start of the second half brought a whole other fairy tale to the stage in the guise of a political review of the year by Messer’s Frank Forde and Ger Leonard. Messer’s by title and messers by nature, so here is the gist of the real fairy tale.
Fairy Nettle played by Kathryn Fitzmaurice from the Kingdom of Ballinrobe, cast an evil spell on the palace. But, the day is saved by the Fairy Queen played by Deirdre Rice from the Kingdom of Swinford. The Fairy Queen and her fairy crew change events by amending the spell from a Royal death wish, to a Princess destined to sleep for a 100 years. Princess Marigold could only be awoken by a kiss from a handsome Prince. Cue, Eugene Flynn to arrive as Prince Harry of Boholia and they all lived happily ever after until next years show.
The best wine is always left till last and it was in 1992 that the sad news of the death of Tony Donegan reached Castlebar. Tony had been involved with Castlebar Pantomime both on stage and back stage up to 1992. Tony was someone who would always do his best in what ever he was involved with and would never expect anything in return. He was happy in the knowledge of a job well done and maybe he might get some laughs out of doing it. Tony Donegan was a rare character and true loss to all around him.
The 1993 panto saw Michael Rice appear in the title role of "Mother Goose" under the direction of Ms Marina Rice. Panto is just one big family but the Rice's appeared en masse that year - with Pauline Rice, Aoife Rice and Aishling Rice also getting involved really made it a family affair. Not only did Marina Rice produce "Mother Goose" but somehow she found time to write in two extra characters of Norma Jean, The Fairy Queen and The Demon Reprobate.
Ann Melvin’s performance as Norma Jean was effortless, as Ann appeared to have been born to play this larger than life character based on Marilyn Monroe. It is retold in the Book of Panto that it was with great reluctance that Mrs. Melvin returned that scarlet dress. Counselling sessions in Cody’s après panto did seem to ease her loss however. Stephen Guthrie's costume as the Demon Reprobate appeared to be a copy of an escaped Royalist from the English Civil war, but our Stephen never looked so good. It probably would not have helped vegetable sales down in Cannon's, but rarely have the forces of good and evil shone so brightly in scarlet as Ann and Stephen did in 1993.
Gertie the Goose was played, silently but effectively by Catherine Denning who followed the panto tradition started by her famous Aunts Nan Monaghan, Angela Casey and Irene Smith in the 1960s. Garry Wynne appeared as her Father the King Goose of Geese-ala who carelessly lost her to the evil Jasper Jason played by Michael Devanney. Garry is another person to have inherited Pantomime fever as in the 1950s another Wynne Uncle Gussie, graced the panto stage. Also Garry's Mother, then Ita Whelan and his Uncle Eamon Whelan also appeared in Castlebar Pantomimes in the 1960's with sister Deirdre appearing in "Sinbad and the Vampire".
To complete this Goose family portrait was one Karen Conway, as the Queen of Geese-ala. Again there is a pantomime tradition running in the Conway household with, Aunt Beatrice Conway appearing in Pintos during the 1950s, son Mark in 2004 "Beauty and The Beast", Sister Denise in 1987 "Cinderella" and her poor Parents Parse and Kathleen have had to sit through every Pantomime since 1993 - God bless them!
Family is always a large part of panto tradition with many families annually attending. On stage, there are frequently many relatives shinning under the same spotlight. Paddy Gannon for instance appeared in "Mother Goose" with his daughters Lisa and Fiona Gannon, nephews Tommy Corley, Justin Guthrie, Jason Guthrie and niece Caroline Guthrie. Other years saw Deirdre Guthrie and Elaine Gannon also on stage with Robert Guthrie holding the fort in the Pantomime shop. Indeed Jason Guthrie left the panto folks with gaping mouths in 1993. Jaws fell to the floor as Jason displayed a much hidden talent, oh boy, could that dancer sing! His recently revealed talent secured him the role of principal boy Jack with Lorraine Cusack as Jill - a very "Creditable" performance from the pride of Mountdaisy.
Playing the roles of their lives, were Padraig Diskin and Lar Davis who stole many a scene when they appeared as Cutie and Fruitie. Padraig did have a few problems with his blond wig until Michael Devanney administered some hairdresser’s magic to cure it but other than that took to his female role with alarming ease. Lar Davis being the true professional he is, declined to stay in his costume gown, as he perambulated into Coady's at half time just to see if all was well with the world outside or to see if he could assist Sir Arthur Guinness in any way.
All things being fair in Panto, if you had two guys dressed as women, then naturally you had to have two gals as guys! 1993 saw Darina Molloy and Kathryn Fitzmaurice play Baron Jasper Jason’s henchmen Debit and Credit. This trio was responsible for evicting Mother Goose and her son Simple Simon played by Ann Timothy out of their house and off onto their tale of woe. This tale took them to Scotland and Holland with many wonderful chorus numbers to keep them company. Adrian Gavin was notable in this panto with his version of the "Dutchman" and although it seems unlikely to put this in the same sentence, the juniors’ rendition of the Frog Chorus was absolutely the sweetest thing to witness in "Mother Goose" that year. The "Black Hills of Dakota" is on the other hand a number, which the chorus have no desire to remember - definitely NOT a panto favourite!
Politics creep in every where and when Jimmy Murphy was not playing a Garda evicting poor Mother Goose, he doubled up on roles and played Pilib O'Ceallaigh T.D. But, for once it was not only the local politicians like Eamon Joyce, Padraig Flynn and Enda Kenny who were ribbed from the stage. Bishop Michael Neary and Fr. Gerry Needham arrived for the Friday show to be met with the traditional panto jokes from the stage at their expense. Both men of the cloth however, took it all in their stride as they sat back and continued to enjoy the rest of the show. Other victims picked from the audience that year were Paul Heverin, Tony Grimes, Mick Byrne, Michael Parsons, Josephine McCann and Ernie Sweeney, all in the spirit of jest of course!
Nan Monaghan uncovered the script for the 1993 show "Babes in the Wood". This script was unique in the fact that it was the same script that she had used in 1964 production of "Babes in the Wood" while playing the part of Robin Hood. Nan's daughter Michelle Monaghan played the role of Maid Marion, which her Aunt Angela Casey had played before her. Pantomime new comer Richard Heneghan played Robin Hood; with his and Michelle’s version of "True Love" becoming a panto classic by the end of the week.
Also, by the end of the week, another classic was born. In 1993 Frank Forde played the role of Dame Martha to the point where his antics that year has become legendary. A certain scene which contained Mr. Forde using a metal bucket on stage as a replacement for a bedpan had to be both seen and heard to be believed. His interpretation of "Dear Frankie" almost required oxygen masks to be handed out to the audience who could not breathe from laughing. But the crème de la crème was during the Friday night show when Monsieur Paul Claffey (he of Mid-West Radio) appeared with Frank in a cameo role as The Matron. Any remaining caution was thrown to the wind as Frank dressed in a pink nightie was reprimanded by Paul Claffey in a matron’s uniform in a completely unscripted and believe me, an unrehearsed scene. Photos of this scene will be appear on the Castlebar Pantomime Website for the unbelievers.
No "Babes in the Wood" production would be complete with "The Babes" who were played by Charlie Davis and Katrina Roughneen. Young as he was, Charlie Davis was no stranger to the panto scene being the son of the famous actor Lawrence J. Davis. While Katrina Roughneen had moved through the ranks of the junior chorus to win her first principal role as Jill.
The Babes spent most of the show dodging the Sheriff of Nottingham played by Michael Devanney who managed to squash in some acting between painting sets, creating costumes, performing coiffure miracles and transforming Darina Molloy from your friendly local reporter into the evil Witch Sly-Eye. Michael’s talent with make up was outstanding and the children in the audience were terrified of the vampire-ish looks of Witch Sly-Eye. She was absolutely detested by the young audience, a true tribute to Michael’s costume and make up genius combined with Darina's flawless acting style.
Of course in pantomime, wherever there are bad witches there also has to be a good fairy. This role was given to Anne Kerrigan as Fairy Goodheart who in theory, was supposed to magically arrive on stage within a series of rotating mirrors which it was hoped would confuse the audience as to where she had arrived. In practice, however, this did not always work. The audience was often left with a view of the petite Anne pushing the large mirrors away from her, while the twinkly fairy music was overshadowed by Des Byrne in a Dublin accent colourfully commenting on the fact, that there was an error in the proceedings...
The chorus had a ball that year and all thoroughly enjoyed the choice of songs and dance routines. Certain members of the audience also enjoyed the chorus when the senior chorus dressed as French Maids appeared with Liam Connell as the Butler, in the "Hurry Up" number. Sharon Lavelle was enjoying her first year in Pantomime until she found herself to be the only dancer on stage when the rest of the chorus misjudged the length of a chocolate break. Sharon hid behind Garry Wynne who played Friar Tuck and waited while the chocolate culprits sneaked onto the stage hoping that no one noticed their absence!
Garry, totally thrown by the change in proceedings, mixed up the words of "In the Middle of the Night" leaving the tightly choreographed dancers hands high in the air for "River Deep" and the dancers hands down on the ground for "Mountain High". Ah well, did anyone except for the chorus really notice the error - I doubt it!
The long time achievement award for the most costume changes in any pantomime, goes to Ms Donna Ruane and Ms Karen Conway. In 1993 they had the troublesome task of changing in and out of six different costumes within one show, with one or two repeats I might add. Tweed jackets were borrowed from Nat Ruane, Bacon Factory coats were borrowed from Pearse Conway, scarecrow outfits, robbers’ attire, 1920s swim suits and Russian costumes were drafted in from Limerick to keep the girls busy as The Sheriff of Nottingham’s henchmen, Smash and Grabbe.
During the show Donna Ruane as Smash was supposed to be pushed gently on stage from the wings in a shopping trolley to stand and deliver her lines before scrambling out for the rest of scene. A certain individual playing Grabbe could not resist the temptation on the last night to push poor Smash out into the stage with such force that the audience were but a flash of faces to Donna as she careered onto the far side of the Town hall stage. The only thing that stopped her from heading out to Coady's were the back stage crew as they held each other up while laughing at the shock in her face. Back then you could do those kinds of things and the amazing thing is that no one was hurt - they just got you back!
Castlebar Pantomime celebrate its 10th Anniversary in 1995 with a production of "Cinderella and The Three Bears". To mark this amateur group’s achievement a commemorative program was launched in Coady's Friendly Tavern in Linen Hall Street compiled by Emer Mullins, Nan Monaghan, P.J. Mullins, Franke Forde and Marina Rice. To start each show in 1995, members of the junior chorus were dressed up as miniature versions of the previous 10 pantomimes main characters to symbolise the shows of the past 10 years.
"Goldilocks" was without question the most colourful of any Castlebar Pantomime. The backdrops were outstanding and appeared life like from a distance courtesy of the talents of Michael Devanney, Alice Rodgers, Fiona Martin, Sinead Martin and Mary Reilly. Clown costumes, fairy costumes, woodland animals, circus performers, gypsies, a vampire and of course the Three Bears created a magical vision upon the Town Hall Stage. These costumes were either hired or created by Patsy Gaughan, Maureen Vahy, Wendy Cotter, Ann Nally, Sharon Lavelle, Fiona Kilbane and Delia O'Grady.
No detail was overlooked no matter how small while Fiona Kilbane produced this show. She was ably assisted by Ann Kerrigan as Choral Director, who also appeared as Fairy Gossamer, and Choreographers Jason Guthrie and Monica Masterson. Marina Rice who also appeared as The Fairy Queen was Stage Manageress who orchestrated miracles with the help of Mick Monaghan, Tom Jennings, Philip Lydon, Brian Lydon, Tom McGrath, Eugene Flynn, Gerry Duffy and Noel Lester. Lighting and sound effects were in the hands of Dave Murphy, Aideen Christie, Kevin Heraty, Terry Coleman and Frankie McDonald.
Michael Devanney, Ann Cresham and Orla Reilly nightly transformed many an ordinary face into an extraordinary character with their magical make up skills. Sadly someone who annually contributed to many a colour full face on stage had passed away shortly before "Goldilocks" was preformed. Madeline Gallagher who had been involved in many a Town Hall stage production in the 1960s and who was with Castlebar Pantomime in different roles since 1986, was sorely missed by those she had left behind as she went to enjoy a different chorus on a faraway stage.
Other contributors to the smooth running of "Goldilocks" were prompters Clare Kenny and Carmel Dooley, door and box office co-ordinator Pat Tierney, M.C. Stephen Burns and the every versatile Robert Guthrie who juggled managing the panto shop, with the taming of the very pernickety red Town Hall stage curtains.
The toughest roles that year were played by the Three Bears themselves. The heat of the lights and the weight of the costumes not to mention their awkwardness at certain crucial times during the night meant that Walter Donoghue as Daddy Bear, Mary McHale as Mammy Bear and Rachel Tuomey as Baby Bear truly earned their applause every night. The hero of the day was Sean Mulroy who stepped in at the 11th and a half-hour to play Willy Clott. Sean proved his worth as the talent he is, by repeating the script on the first performance, word perfect and without ever rehearsing it! Mind you if the cast had to hear him screech "But, but Mammy" one more time he would not have lasted a second week of the show. His interpretation of Free Willy as he nightly (and unscripted) released a mock fish from his possession onto the stage brought the house down.
The most glamorous Dame of any Castlebar Pantomime before or since was played by the seemingly harmless Mayo General medical scientist, Mr. Liam Connell. Oh! but put that man in a well fitting dress, complete with the best legs in the business and our Liam was unstoppable as Dame Priscilla Clott. Dame Priscilla saved the Three Bears from the evil clutches of Baron Heinrich Muchausen played by Michael Devanney (for such a sound fella, he always played the bad guy) and his bungling henchmen Ali and Oop complete with very convincing Indian accents (well they thought they had) played by that dynamic duo Donna Ruane and Karen Conway. So anyway, off the Three Bears went back into the woods where Goldilocks played by Debbie Lester basically broke into their house, stole their food and had the cheek to take up squatters rights in their most comfortable bed.
This is where the traditional story severely branches off. Enter Count Dracula played rather convincingly by Garry Wynne who fancies Goldilocks as the next Mrs. Dracula and teams up with the evil Baron (yes him again) to lure Goldilocks into his bat cave. Apparently Goldie's heart belonged to Robin Makepeace played by Jason Guthrie, who with the help of the Forrest Fairy played by Brenda Walsh flooded the vampire's cave with day light and God knows at the time Garry was more at home in the middle of the night, destroyed the vampire and saved the day. Well at least, until the Pantomime Committee came up with another script and another crazy set of events the following year.
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 forma – check out www.castlebarpantomime.com. Alternatively you can email material to email@example.com. 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