Mulcahy, who plays Dame Dolly Dulallie in CADA’s production of Beauty and the Beast at the Everyman Palace Theatre (until January 8), has been playing the dame for 20 years. This year, he is on stage for most of the show as Beauty’s mother, who winds up in the Beast’s castle under the illusion that he is on the set of Dragon’s Den. He eats berries, which causes him to suffer hallucinations.
Mulcahy knows the children in the audience can’t be fobbed off by actors reciting their lines and remaining detached. Up against 3D films, the X Factor, Xboxes and Nintendo, Mulcahy is keenly aware of the need to win over the attention of children who are exposed to so much fast-paced sophisticated entertainment. His goal is to avoid what he calls ‘Tayto moments’. “When somebody comes on stage to sing a song that has nothing to do with the pantomime, the kids will start opening their bags of Taytos. That shouldn’t happen. In panto, we have to keep the children on the ball. The dame, in particular, has to have a lot of interaction with the children,” he says.
Mulcahy cites his favourite pantomime incident, which occurred a few years ago when he was playing Red Riding Hood’s granny. “I kept jumping in and out of bed and the kids were screaming that the wolf was behind me. After a while, one child stood up and pointed out that I was wearing slippers in bed. I had to tell the child that she was right, take off the slippers and do it all over again. The mother of that child wrote to me to thank me for not ignoring her child. I will never ignore a child who makes a comment. I zone in on any comments straight away. I love the interaction with children. You have to relate to them. The beauty of the Everyman Palace is that it’s quite intimate, so interaction works well,” he says.
There was a time when Mulcahy used to leave the stage and meet the children in the auditorium. “But there was an incident when an over-enthusiastic crowd of school children grabbed me. I literally couldn’t get up from the floor and I had a fear of the kids grabbing my wig, so we had to put a stop to that,” he says.
When Disney turned fairytales into cartoons, “everything in children’s entertainment had to become more upbeat. The music had to change; the sets had to change. But the thing that never changes is the original storyline, because the children know all the fairytales,” he says.
Influenced by the likes of Jack Cruise and Jimmy O’Dea, Mulcahy favours dames that are not drag queens. “I don’t go for the drag queen concept at all. For me, the dame is all about the kids knowing I’m a man but taking on board my role in the pantomime. I become their granny and when I meet the kids after the show, they tell me they knew I was a man all along,” he says.
It’s all part of the fun. However, Mulcahy, who will be 63 in January, says that the physicality required in pantomime gets harder over the years. “I push myself and never give into anything. In this year’s panto, there’s a lot of jumping over tables and Irish dancing. It’s physically tough, but I feel I’m still well able to do it,” he says.
At the age of ten, Mulcahy was encouraged by his teacher in the North Monastery to get involved in acting. “The teacher, Denis Harrington, said he thought I’d make a great comedian. I thought I was a very serious young fellow. But that teacher saw something and he was right. Everything I’ve played from there on has been comedy. I learned techniques from Paddy Comerford and Billa O’Connell. They were the people I looked up to,” he says.
When Mulcahy was 16, he joined the Collins’ Musical Society and was introduced to the stage of the Cork Opera House. “Catherine Mahon-Buckley (the director of CADA) gave me the opportunity to get into panto.”
Retired from his day job as a foreman with a paint company, Mulcahy teaches performance part-time at CADA.
“It’s great to be able to give something back and to teach kids what I’ve learnt over the years,” he says. Often, the children have stars in their eyes. “It’s not so much that they want to be in the X Factor. They all want to grow up and go to London and after three years in college, they want to be in the West End. But to make it in the West End, you have to be the very best.” Mulcahy, despite being 60-plus, does his best every year at the pantomime.