Still behind you: Return of panto gives The Everyman a new lease of life

After a sustained period ‘in the dark’, the pantomime also brings a significant revenue as well as fun and laughter
Still behind you: Return of panto gives The Everyman a new lease of life

Actor Ciaran Bermingham being transformed into the Panto Dame Widow Mary Twanky. Make-up being applied by Kayanna Morrissey. Picture: Larry Cummins

That phrase so evocative of December entertainment — “He’s behind you!” — makes a welcome return to theatres everywhere this year.

Aladdin, opening at The Everyman theatre on December 8 and running until January 15, is presented in association with CADA Performing Arts Academy.

After an extended absence due to Covid restrictions in 2020, this traditional staple of Cork entertainment over the festive season arrives well timed for audiences in need of laughter and fun. After a sustained period ‘in the dark’, the pantomime also brings a significant revenue when it is needed most.

“Ninety-two per cent of the Everyman’s income comes from ticket sales, with the annual pantomime making up 20% of that — and that is a measure of just how important the annual production is to the theatre,” explains The Everyman marketing and communications manager Sinead Murphy.

“It is particularly important that it goes well this year, having been cancelled last year, and also giving us a foundation for our plans in 2022.”

Always well supported by the public, this year’s production generated particular interest well before tickets went on sale: “We have been inundated for information by the public going back weeks, which was so gratifying.

“Given the restrictions and the uncertainty, our main concern was grappling with the details of how we could put the show on this year. 

It was never in doubt that we would have a panto, it was planning the logistics of how to put it all together that mainly occupied us.

“The first day’s ticket sales when the box office opened was the largest in our history.”

The choice of Aladdin, with its official media partners 96FM, C103, and The Echo, was an appropriate choice for audiences wanting equal amounts of fantasy and laughter for the 2021 festive season: “Like all pantos, there will be elements that are contemporary, and that combined with the live performance and children will hopefully give audience plenty of much needed laughs.”

Sinead Murphy, marketing and communications manager. Picture: Darragh Kane
Sinead Murphy, marketing and communications manager. Picture: Darragh Kane

While all sectors of society have been challenged over the past two years, the entertainment sector, and theatre in particular, has been significantly impacted as the restrictions and lockdown brought the sector to a virtual standstill.

“It has undoubtedly been one of the worst periods for the sector, and we are so pleased to see the creative teams coming back. So many people involved in theatre have had to deal with changes in their circumstances over the past two years, having had to take up other jobs, to move for better prospects and not able to follow their primary passion.

"It is so wonderful to see them coming back and with such an appetite to be involved again."

Sinead is a UCC graduate with a BA in English Literature and Philosophy and MA in Romanticism, Modernism and Postmodernism. Her previous position was marketing and sales manager with Facet Publishing in Britain, the commercial publishing and bookselling arm of CILIP, the library and information association. Her experience encompasses developing and implementing marketing strategies, promotional campaigns, digital marketing, web development and growing audiences through new channels and line management.

Projects in the pipeline

Looking toward the coming year, the Everyman has a number of major projects in the pipeline — allowing for the possible restrictions that may yet be obstacles in its way.

“We are certainly making plans for 2022, but it really does rest on the panto being successful — that gives us the necessary foundation to move forward with our plans over the next 12 months.”

In a business relying to such an extent on collaboration, Sinead highlights the enthusiasm of the performers, artists and creative teams as being ready to tackle whatever challenges that lie ahead: “You still have to make plans, and be sensible about what can realistically can be achieved under the circumstances.

“Mindful of possible reduced budgets, we can and will still deliver great shows — which is a credit to those creative people who are so willing to work and perform regardless of these difficult times.”

Right through the pandemic, The Everyman continued with its Artists’ Afternoons, an initiative designed to remain in touch with the artistic community. “It has been a valuable way for The Everyman to facilitate artists, meeting new collaborators, discussing their work and seeing specially selected screenings.”

These take place monthly with the next scheduled for December 15.

A long history in Cork

Historically, The Everyman has lived up to its reputation as an iconic location with a tradition interlinked with the city itself. On Easter Monday night, April, 19 1897, theatrical impresario Dan Lowrey opened the doors of the Cork Palace of Varieties, constructed as a sister theatre to the Empire Palace in Dublin. The following morning’s Cork Examiner declared: “The Palace Theatre of Varieties entered its career with every assurance of prosperity.”

Artists who performed at the theatre during this period included Charlie Chaplin, George Formby, Laurel & Hardy and Sandow the Strong Man. Prices ranged from £1 for a box to 6d for a seat in the gallery, with the original entrance from St. Patrick’s Quay.

The arts sector suffered during the pandemic with closed theatres.
The arts sector suffered during the pandemic with closed theatres.

With the advent of the ‘talkies’, the theatre became The Palace Cinema in the 1930s, advertised as ‘the house with the perfect sound’ and served as one of the city’s major cinemas for almost 50 years. In 1990, the listed building became a working theatre again, re-launching as the Everyman Palace Theatre.

“You have to take the long view in this business, and certainly the future prospects for Cork and the region generally are very impressive,” Sinead believes.

“The population of the city is set to increase considerably, and the vibrancy of Cork is already evident with the new buildings already up, and so much more planned for the immediate future.

“Even the Victorian Quarter all around us here on MacCurtain Street has become such an important social and commercial hub in the past few years.

“Our plans for The Everyman are built around remaining relevant to audiences, with programming that is ever more diverse and inclusive with an appeal to as wide an audience as possible.”

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