Panto going ahead – with Shane confirmed as this year’s dame

That best-known of showbiz phrases – ‘The show must go on’ – is clearly the motto when it comes to the hugely popular Mullingar panto.

Working on the assumption that theatrical performances will be allowed by the end of the year, Mullingar Arts Centre has confirmed it is to press ahead with its plans for a pantomime.

The panto is to be The Snow Queen, and the dame is to be the inimitable Shane Bardon.

And ‘oh yes they have’ considered the complications that will have to be factored in when putting the show together, confirms arts centre chief, Seán Lynch.

Just one of those major complications is that the cast are likely to find themselves having to stage almost twice as many performances as normal. One of the evenings will see the centre stage two performances solely for the benefit of members of the staff of Mullingar hospital.

“We normally stage 20-plus performances,” says Seán. “But we are looking at doing almost twice that – 34.”

Seán admits his optimism is founded on the hope that the social distancing rules may still mean it is possible to run the theatre at 50 per cent capacity.

Talks with cast members are under way and the full line-up is set to be named at the end of this month – but audiences will be delighted to see Shane Bardon confirmed as show dame – his fourth year in that role.

Typically, the Mullingar panto tends to have an onstage cast of around 20, and there is a huge level of participation by the stage schools that operate in the centre. Social distancing rules will clearly influence how many performers can be on stage at any one time – and the rules will also apply during the rehearsal process.

“We have to work all that out, but we were anxious to make a decision on it,” says Seán, adding that it would be one light at the end of the bleak year 2020 is proving to be for the arts centre.

“Our income has fallen off a cliff: we’ve had nothing for April, little in March and we are still closed.

“We’ve had to lay off our admin staff – that’s five people; and all our tutors – that’s 21 more.”

Happily, ticket sales for this year’s panto were flying up to the time that the coronavirus arrival threw a pall of uncertainty over everything: by February they were already well ahead of the previous year’s sales – and that was a record year. “We have over 2,000 tickets sold,” reveals Seán.

The panto is due to start on December 2, and between then and December 23, the 34 performances will be squeezed in.

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