Oh Yes It Did!
Galloping in on a chariot of excitement five years ago the first fully professional University Concert Hall panto brought a flurry of Christmas pizazz to the University of Limerick campus.
Combining the impressiveness of the UL campus with the professional outfit that is the UCH machine it was sure to be a success. The drive along the entrance avenue on a winter’s night in December hints that the audience is arriving to a truly royal affair. Except highbrow it ain’t. And the good news is that this year’s panto – the SPAR Panto, Beauty and the Beast is in full swing and is bigger and better than ever!
With a mix of local and national stars the cast appear genuinely happy to be bringing laughs and chaos to the audience every night. With a wealth of experience among them, some more than others (wink , wink , Myles Breen is celebrating 20 years of panto!!) they are bound to have a tale or two to tell about the crazy frenzied world that is panto.
UL Links caught up with some of the cast about the telling of the ‘tale as old as time’ and when the ‘oh no it didn’t’ ……actually does.
1. The whole of Limerick and beyond is really looking forward to this year’s Spar panto, Beauty and the Beast, and the energy and enthusiasm you guys bring to your performances every year. The pressure must be immense to make each year as brilliant as the last?
Leeanne Moore:You know what - I actually do feel the pressure a little but the feeling doesn't last very long. I know what a strong team we have who work to make it the funniest and most magical experience. Karl Harpur's script is always hilarious and he is always there from start to finish to make sure it comes to life exactly as he's planned it. Also whenever Richie Hayes and George McMahon team up you are guaranteed to be entertained!
George McMahon : When you've spent a few years building an audience like UCH panto has, of course there's huge pressure to deliver. It's great to feel a certain amount of pressure because it makes sure that we're on our toes and never become complacent or take our audience for granted.
Richard Lynch : I feel very excited, nervous, giddy. There was some great press this year and everywhere I go people are asking me about it. What people don’t realise it the immense about of physical work that goes into it so I am trying to get healthy before it starts. Every year we try and raise the bar and every year it gets bigger and better, which means more work and more pressure, but it’s what we all live for and it’s the name of the game.
2. What is so different about the UCH panto?
Myles Breen : First and foremost all involved both on stage and off have a real love of panto. And I think that comes across to the audience that we are enjoying it as much as them!
Richard Lynch: It’s an expensive, professional production with lavish sets and costumes. It has contemporary humour and music. The script is a reflection of the time we are living in and the whole production takes into account what’s happening in the world at the present moment so the audience can really identify with it.
Richie Hayes: It has local gags and jokes but it has one of the best and most experienced casts in Ireland. So the amount of panto knowledge on the stage makes it a cracker and also it has the high end professional production levels expected right on your doorstep.
Tipperary man and one of the busiest Irish comedians on the circuit Tom O’ Mahony, joined the cast this year along with Karl Spain and Aoibhín Garrihy.
Aoibhín, what are you most looking forward to heading into your first panto at UCH?
What I'm most looking forward to is the magical responsibility of being (for many children) the first introduction to live theatre! As an actor, that for me is a very special and important role! The fact that the show is Beauty and the Beast, one of my favourite Fairytales and Disney movie is just the icing on the cake!
Tom, how do you think this will differ from other shows that you have done?
About 180 degrees different. I've never gotten changed in the same room as a grown man wearing ladies underwear before. It'll be brilliant being in such a different environment to stand-up.
I think Panto is its very own unique genre. The scale of performance is bigger, more animated and lots of fun! It’s a chance to let the hair down! It's similar to farce and comedy in that timing is everything but I think (and hope) you have a captive audience from the get go. 'Tis the season to be jolly and so you would hope that your audience are there to have fun, enjoy the show and be entertained. There's something comforting in knowing you have them on side. And also the family aspect...people are there to make memories and it's very special as an actor to be a part of that.
3. Guys What do you think is it that draws people back to pantos year after year?
GM: Families love tradition at Christmas. Young parents brought their kids to their first panto at UCH 5 years ago. Their three year olds from then are now eight so they've grown up with us.
MB: For kids it’s seeing a story they know and love come to life right in front of them, and for the grownups I think its permission to be a kid again.
LM: I can't remember a Christmas where I haven't been in or been to a panto and I am sure for many families it's the same. It's like a little tradition for so many families.
4. Are there any surprises for this year’s show?
MB: My lips are sealed, but I am fairly sure I will be wearing one “gúna” that will rock your socks off!
GM : We have heaps. Our new cast mates are going down a storm this year. When you hear our "Beast" singing it'll bring the house down. Karl Spain and Tom are naturally funny men so no doubt the audience will be rolling in the aisles with laughter. Aoibhín Garrihy is our other newbie this year and her character has a hilarious sketch in the castle to watch out for! Richie Hayes and I meet up regularly to chat about comedy sketches, funny songs and other ways to enhance our double act for the show. Richard Lynch always has a surprise in store for his Limerick fans.
5. What tale haven’t you done that you think would be really good?
MB: I have never done “Little Red Riding Hood!” I Can see myself as the Granny (cushy job as she spends most of her time in bed!).
LM : Oooo there aren't many I haven't done! Hmmmmm maybe I could be tinker bell in Peter Pan! I love Tinkerbell!
GM : I'd love to see Peter Pan too. It'd be a huge technical challenge to make Peter fly, but if Robert C Kelly (our producer) can turn a concert hall into a traditional theatre, he can do anything!!
RL: Peter Pan or Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs could be cool!
6. Many of you have been together for 5 years now what have you learnt about each other, anyone with any peculiar performance preparation tactics?
LM: What I have learned is that those two - Richie and George - will ALWAYS have a trick up their sleeves. So if you have scenes with them - which I always do - you should be afraid! Be very afraid! Last year as Sleeping Beauty when I was asleep on the stage the two of them scoffed cheese and onion crisps and came right up close to my face to say their lines. It took all I could not to smile.
GM : We've been working together so long we probably don't even notice our quirky mannerisms. Richard Lynch is an avid dancer. At vocal warm ups he will light up the room with his "full-out" freestyle dance moves. That guy needs his own TV show!!
7. Are there any bloopers that have cracked you up over the years that you can tell UL Links readers … we promise we won’t tell anyone else J
MB: One memory is during Cinderella, myself and Richard Lynch playing the ugly sisters leave the ball. I got confused and thought we had a costume change… so proceeded to strip. Then Richard reminded me we were due back on stage almost immediately. So I am standing in my unmentionables and the cue for our entrance is coming up. Not enough time to get back into the ball gown (it was huge and took 2 people to help me into it) so there follows a mad dash to the dressing room grab another costume shove it on and I barely made it on stage in a mad sweat and looking crazy and dishevelled! But my thanks to Leanne Moore and Richie Hayes who, being the complete professionals they are, did not bat an eyelid. I lied about that last bit they were both cracking up at me!
GM : Bloopers and panto go hand in hand. Unlike television, we don't get a second take, so bloopers make the cut every time. The audience loves when something happens when it's not supposed to. Richie Hayes and I have a brilliant scene in this year's panto which is a tongue-twisting minefield. Ask me this question next year and I guarantee there'll be plenty of blooper stories for you!!
We catch Myles on his ‘significant milestone
Myles, this is your 20th consecutive year doing panto (although not always with UCH obviously!), a big congratulations to you…what is so special about Panto for you?
For me, and I am sure a lot of people, Panto was the first live show I was brought to as a child and I was immediately hooked not just on panto but on theatre. It is true this is my 20th in a row (feeling my age) but there is something about the audience’s reaction, especially the kids, that makes you feel young and you are that wide eyed kid screaming at the baddie.
Can you imagine a Christmas without Panto – What would you do?
I Have no idea! I probably would be found on O’Connell street in full on costume trying to get strangers to shout “he’s behind you!” at me
Myles –Is there a panto role that you would love?
A panto role which I played over 20 years ago in Cork was Pinocchio and it was first my panto ever, and it still has a place in my heart. Of course I would love to play the role again but I think that ship has sailed! (Not only sailed but hit an iceberg and sank!).
The SPAR Panto, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, runs from December 19th to January 8th with matinee and evening shows most days. Tickets for families start at €17.50 and can be booked through the UCH Box Office at 061 331549 or online at www.uch.ie.
Some shows are already sold out so don’t delay and book today!