For many families across Ireland, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without a visit to the panto. I for one didn’t quite understand this tradition when I first moved here. Having come from the US, my annual December visit to the theatre as a child was to see the Boston Ballet perform The Nutcracker (there were even young ballerinas from my school in the production, which was accompanied by a live orchestra). When I first heard about the pantomime experience, I wondered why any grown-up would want to attend what appeared to me to be a silly affair.
Fast forward a few years and along came the offspring, who then grew a little more with every Christmas, and every visit to Santa. My mother-in-law kindly offered to send us all to see the panto when my eldest was 10, and the youngest seven. She declared that it would have to be the Gaiety. In any case, we didn’t get around to booking the tickets, and next thing we knew it was January.
The following Christmas, I received an invitation to see the Gaiety Panto, so I very happily accepted, realising just how fast these things book out. It was an experience… for all four of us. Camp? Sure. Silly? Absolutely. But what is Christmas without a bit of silliness? And I will say, it was clear that the actors, singers, dancers, and even the orchestra were really giving it socks.
My only advice is to wait until your younger companions (whether they’re your children, nieces and nephews, siblings, god children… what have you) are that little bit older (Six, maybe? It all depends on the child, I suppose…) so that they – and you – can fully enjoy the jokes and shenanigans, and not be scared by the villains; and if you’re attending an evening show, they don’t fall asleep in the middle of the performance.
Now, which one to choose…? I would advise you try out your local options (support local, and all that, but also so you don’t have to trek a long way there and back – the children are small, god love them!), but if you’re thinking of going all out and want to head into town, you really cannot go wrong with the Gaiety – it is tradition, after all, and the theatre’s décor offers that sense of grandeur that a night at the theatre really should. Better yet, make a day of it and take the kids for dinner beforehand. (I know one family who take their kids to the Disney Store to pick out one small gift before the show, though to each their own.)
This year’s Gaiety Christmas Panto is The Snow Queen, and I must say – this being my third – I was truly impressed with this year’s production. It’s definitely bigger and better (spoiler alert: the added special effects will definitely bring smiles to the kids’ faces, as well as yours) and the returning cast members have perfected their craft with each year (we have our favourites, of course – the Panto Dame – or in this year’s case, Granny Hurdy-Gurdy – aka Joe Conlon; Nicholas Grennell, who plays Jack Frost; Michael Joseph, who brilliantly plays a gender fluid unicorn in this production, below; and of course, West End stalwart Louise Bowden, whose Snow Queen was fabulous and frightening in equal measure.
If you’ve yet to book tickets, fear not – The Snow Queen’s run at the Gaiety has been extended to January 20, but don’t rest on your laurels – they will sell out before you’ve finished your Christmas shopping.
More pantos worth booking…
Cinderella at the Everyman Theatre, Cork
December 1 to January 13, from €28; family price (4 tickets) from €100, www.everymancork.com
Snow White at the University Concert Hall Limerick
December 17 to January 6, family of four from €23.50 per person, https://www.uch.ie
Alice in Wonderland at the Lime Tree, Limerick
December 28 to January 6, €20.50; family of four, €70, https://www.limetreetheatre.ie/
Sleeping Beauty at the Town Hall Theatre Galway
December 29 to January 13, €18, www.tht.ie
Jack and the Beanstalk at the Civic Theatre, Tallaght
December 12 to January 6, €16; family of four, €55, https://www.civictheatre.ie/
Beauty and the Beast at the dlr Mill Theatre, Dundrum
December 7 to January 7, €16, http://www.milltheatre.ie
Robin Hood at The Helix
Until January 20, from €19.50, https://thehelix.ie
Snow White at the Tivoli Theatre, Dublin
December 4 to January 13, €30.75, https://www.panto.ie/
Polly and the Magic Lamp at the Olympia, Dublin
December 21 to January 6, €26; family of four, €84, https://www.olympia.ie/
The Wizard of Oz at the Draíocht
January 4-20, €22, https://www.draiocht.ie/