Pantomime finds its origin in the 16th commedia dell’arte tradition of Italy, but these days it is most popular on these islands.
Before this year I had never attended a panto. Growing up there was no family tradition of going to a Christmas show. When I moved to Dublin I was in my early twenties – I was focused on carousing in the evenings at Christmastime. My years in the Netherlands meant there was no opportunity to see a Christmas panto as these shows are not staged there.
Finally this year, I decided that it really was time to address this void in my cultural life. Every year the sports and social club at my workplace provides subsidised tickets to the panto. This year’ the ‘s show was the big production of ‘Peter Pan’ at the 1,000 seater University Concert Hall in Limerick for a fiver apiece (rather than than 26 euro face value).
It was as ridiculously cheesy as I expected. Limerick panto veterans Myles Breen and Richie Hayes played the the panto dame and sidekick. Fair City star Johnny Ward played the villainous Captain Hook (boo, hiss). Peter Pan, Wendy Darling and Tinkerbelle played the young heroes. I can’t really remember the plot, although I do recall it being flimsy. That doesn’t matter though as the show was an entertainment extravaganza. The villain was conquered, the young heroes prevailed, the audience shouted loud encouragement to the ridiculous, onstage shenanigans. This was exactly what I expected a panto to be and I was not disappointed. It was a great big, barrel of fun.
So impressed was I by ‘Peter Pan’ that yesterday while at work, I idly looked up the dates and times of that evening’s show of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ at the 550 seater Limetree Theatre. As yesterday was return to school day, and as such panto season is winding down, there were seats available. With a dull cunning earned from years of living close to the Bord Gais Theatre in Dublin, I bought a 15 euro ticket in the back of the theatre, knowing that I would be moved to the dear seats near the front. And so it came to pass.
‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ was a retelling of the old fairy-tale with a modern twist – the cost of living crisis meant that poor Jack(ueline) and her bearded Mam, were facing eviction by a wicked banker and his sidekick with an evil ‘MWUAHAHAHA’ laugh, unless she could come up with a million quid by Monday. She sells her cow for a handful of magic beans. We all know the rest. This was another rollicking good tale of mischief and mayhem. Unsurprisingly Jack earns / steals the money from an offstage giant that sounded suspiciously like Pat Shortt; falls in love with Iggy the Ice-cream man, and lives happily ever after. Again the cast were excellent and the show was great fun.
Having never seen a panto in my life up until this point, I think that ‘Peter Pan’ and ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ were an excellent introduction to the artform. I’m only sorry that I missed ‘Cinderella’ at the Millennium Theatre now. I will rectify that next year.