From the word go, the Coolera Dramatic Society Christmas pantomime was a success.
In the early years it took place in the Baymount Hotel in Strandhill.
One Sunday during the first run of shows in 1979 a matinee was due to take place, but there had been a serious falling of snow the night before and getting down the hill in Strandhill was treacherous. It was touch and go as to whether the show would go ahead or not, but as the morning went on and the snow began to melt, Maureen Carroll and the decision-makers at the society figured that they would put the show on as planned.
The word of this must have got out, because although the hotel ballroom fit 500 people, there were more than that there on this day. Buses brought people in from far and wide, and panto stalwart Stephen Devaney tells of actually feeling the sound waves make their way through his body when the audience responded to the provocations of the actors.
41 consecutive shows later (a few in the Mercy College, but mainly in the Hawk’s Well Theatre) and it is a firm fixture in the Sligo entertainment calendar. And sadly this year, for the first time since that day in the Baymount, children and adults from all over Sligo and beyond won’t have the chance to see Stephen and the gang do their thing.
There has been amazing consistency from the lead characters, and this is one of the major factors in the success of the show. Audiences know what they are going to get each year – Stephen has been in 40 of the 41 shows, his brother Brian has played the dame in 39. John Banks has been involved in 36 also, and Bobby Jones, the current director and resident bad guy of the show, incredibly hasn’t missed one show in all the years.
It will be a very strange month of December for those guys, the other actors, the musicians, and the huge support crew who turn up year after year to continue the legacy that was created in Strandhill over 40 years ago. And of course for more than 6000 people in Sligo and the North West, who will miss out on one of their favourite Christmas traditions.
So if you’re missing the show and all that goes along with it, you could do worse than to listen to an interview we did with the aforementioned Brian Devaney on our podcast In The Lamplight this week. Brian works so hard at his role, and has made it his own over the years. He is famous for veering away from the script to chat to the audience, but can then segue back into the storyline effortlessly. By my rough math, he has spent over 3 years of his life dressed as a woman. He is a wonderful storyteller, and goes into some great yarns about shows past, when health and safety regulations weren’t what they are today! Here is his rendition of The Boys of Ballisodare.
To hear the full show, head to lamplightpod.com/podcast or wherever you get your podcasts.
Column 15 for the Sligo Weekender. Published 10 December 2020.