Saturday, 17 January 2009

ALI BABA - the panto in Buncrana

Oh yes they have…. The Buncrana Pantomime Society have, yet again come up with a colourful and entertaining display of local acting talent…. complete with flamboyant costumes and a vibrant set.

Large Cast
The Inishowen Independent managed to get backstage and chat to the producer Willie Doherty to find out exactly just how much work goes in to putting on a show in St Mary’s Hall in Buncrana. The atmosphere was buzzing as the last minute costume and make up preparations were being made. “At any one time there are at least 100 people backstage” Willie explains when I spot him amongst the throng. “The cast consists of 60 adults and 120 children, although not all on the same night.” The Pantomime is directed by Nicola McLaughlin from the town who has graduated this year in speech and drama

Willie Doherty from Buncrana obviously has a passion for the Panto. He has been involved in the pantomime since its beginnings back in 1976 when his brother Neil was the driving force behind the shows. Neil stepped down in 2007 and Willie stepped into his brother’s shoes. This year is the first year Willie has produced the pantomime on his own. Back in May, Willie had to decide on the story for the show. It had been eleven years since Buncrana had put on Ali Baba and he thought it would be a fun one to do. After he made this decision, he had to find music to fit each scene. “Finding appropriate music to add can be a very time consuming job as it’s important to set the right mood,” he explains. Auditions then took place and rehearsals started last September 2008.

It’s ten minutes before curtain up and the seats are nearly all full apart from the queue at the well-stocked sweet counter downstairs in the foyer. All of the children are in costume and waiting patiently. “We have three groups of children and they play either Lizards, Nymphs, Ladybirds, Bees or Sun Fairies.” Willie continues as the cast start to make their way nearer to the stage. “Indirectly there are at least 400 people involved in making this pantomime a reality. We have the orchestra, production team, costume designers and sewing team, ushers, set designers and builders, catering, booking staff, a whole team of unseen volunteers and of course keepers to look after Mabel the Camel when she isn’t working.”

Does the show make any money? “It does make a profit and all of the money goes back into the local parish. There is a big restoration job at the Cockhill Parish church so hopefully most of it will be used for that.” Willie tells us.

Joking Around
We asked Willie who decides the cutting jokes for the Panto. “That job is left to the two comedians Eunan McConnell (playing Omar) and Eddie Murphy (playing Sharif) They do a lot of ad-libbing and find out before hand who is coming to see the show. It depends if it’s person they can directly joke about or if there are relations in the audience. No-one is safe but thankfully everyone who is mentioned takes it well. Some people even get annoyed if they don’t get a mention, as there is a certain element of notoriety about it. It’s a no holes barred event that changes every day and will include polititians, local business people or anyone who is known well in the community.”
The curtain is about to go up and before he gets too distracted, I ask Willie what he thinks the annual Pantomime brings to the town.

A Ray of Sunshine
“ In this present economic climate and being the darkest time of the year after Christmas, I think it gives people a lift and brings a bit of welcome colour into peoples days. It’s best to put the show on now although we have been known to run past St Patrick’s day, but that’s a bit late.” Willie jokes putting on his microphone to keep in touch with the cast members on stage. The curtain is going up. The audience are clapping and the cast members are all smiling…. It’s going to be a fun night.

Willie reminds us as he walks to the stage “We are already planning next years production…. Watch this space…

Ali Baba started on the 11th of January and goes on until the 31st of January. There are 18 shows all together. Performances start at 8 pm. Matinee performances on Sundays at 3pm. They have a rest on Friday and Sunday nights.

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