THE transformation from man to dame starts as soon as Ciaran Bermingham wakes in the morning.
He lies in bed, thinking about the character he’ll play later that day — in this case, it’s ‘Widow Twankey’, or Aladdin’s mum — in the Everyman Palace Theatre pantomime Aladdin.
It’s his first time being cast as a panto dame, a central and unique character in traditional Irish pantomime.
“If I have to get up at seven, I set my alarm clock for 15 minutes beforehand and try and get in to the mindset of the character I’m playing.
“It probably sounds barking mad, but, I think: ‘How does the character get out of bed? How would she get up? Is she happy in the morning, is she grumpy?’”
Once those 15 minutes are up, he’s back to being Ciaran, a husband and a dad-of-two; so he heads downstairs and goes about his daily business.
Later that day — just before rehearsals, or a show — he’ll another take 15 minutes to get into the mindset of the Widow Twankey and then he’ll slip on her heels.
“The first thing I do is the shoes, because, once you have the footwear on, that will dictate the walk, and that’s for any character.
“I’m trying to come up with a walk now for Widow Twankey, so that you’ll know it’s a man’s walk.
“Before I put any makeup on I’ll put on the tights — I hate putting the tights on — and then, once I’ve kind of walked around, I sit down, look at myself and start chatting to myself in the mirror.”
Then it’s time for his make-up to be applied.
“Jesus, I could never be a woman, it’s too much hard work.
“The very last thing I do before I go on stage is put on the lipstick, because, if I observe any women, the last thing they always do is put on their lipstick.
“Then then I’m good to go.”
As a child, Ciaran loved going to pantomimes with his family. They’d get dressed-up and go on Stephen’s Day; it was a family tradition.
“Pantos are a really interesting thing. It’s one of the oldest forms of theatre that there is.
“It depends where you go for panto, they do different things, but ours is a very traditional panto, and it’s absolutely beautiful.”
Ciaran draws inspiration from great dames, such as Danny La Rue, John Inman and Jim Mulcahy, his predecessor.
“I’m absolutely terrified of playing this part, because, one, Jim Mulcahy was the dame in the Everyman for the past 20 years and he became almost an institution in himself; he established this wonderful character and it’s hard to go in to somebody else’s shoes.’
Ciaran describes the dame as someone the kids have to like and the parents have to laugh at.
“It’s the heart of the show, sometimes, the dame, because everybody has to feel sorry for her, then everybody has to be mad at her, and everybody has to fall in love with her.”
Ciaran reckons Cork’s Billa O’Connell played the panto dame so well, because he had all of those qualities and abilities on stage.
“Billa is an absolute legend; he is my complete and utter inspiration.
“He gave me such joy to watch, because someone would drop a line and he was able to pick it up; or because you knew he was a man, like he’d roll up his sleeves, and the way he’d stand, he was like Popeye in a dress!
“If I could do 10% of what Billa could do, then I’d be laughing.”
Ciaran’s first panto was 15 years ago; the same year he started acting.
Since then he’s ticked many goals off of his wishlist: he wanted to be cast in the Gaiety and Cork Opera House pantos, to be a panto dame, to be in a hit Irish TV show, to be in a big international TV show.
“I’ve been very lucky in that I was in Killinascully and very lucky that I’m in Game of Thrones, but the panto dame was one of [the things I wanted to do] and now I get to play it 15 years later and I’m freaked out completely.”
Did he just say he was in Game of Thrones?
Oh, yes, he did!
Ciaran plays Mord — the jailer Tyrion Lannister has to negotiate with after being thrown in to the Sky Cells — in the biggest show in television history.
He auditioned for the HBO series in Belfast, in front of one the world’s biggest casting directors Nina Gold, Dan Weiss, and David Benioff, who adapted the Game of Thrones books and got executive producer Frank Doelger.
“Frank turned around and he goes: ‘That Eastern European accent you’re using is that what you’re going to go with?’
“I just said: ‘Do you like it?
“‘Because if you like it that’s what I’ve planned, if you didn’t I’ll do it again,’ and they started laughing.”
He got the part, literally leapt for joy and hugged everyone who auditioned him.
Ciaran’s a pretty happy guy, not too dissimilar to that overly happy ‘local’ man in Lidl’s latest television ad.
Yes, that’s Ciaran too; on-screen he’s happy to be ‘local’ and off-screen he’s happy with his lot in life.