The festive season wouldn’t be the same without the traditional Christmas pantomime. Thomas Myler looks at the history of the Gaiety Panto – one of the best loved family shows of all.
It’s panto time again. For close on 150 years, Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre, affectionately known as ‘The Grand Old Lady of South King Street’ just off St Stephen’s Green, has been delighting generations of theatregoers with their annual panto. As the playwright Hugh Leonard used to say, “Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a visit to the Gaiety.”
In what other form of entertainment could be found where audiences consist mainly of children and parents, and which incorporates song, dance, buffoonery, slapstick, cross-dressing, in-jokes and audience participation? Where else, too, would you find the dancing cow or horse, the good fairy entering from the right of the stage, representing Heaven, and the nasty villain from the left, depicting Hell?
Pantos have been running at the Gaiety since it first opened in 1874. Two legendary Dublin entertainers forever associated with pantos and the Gaiety were Jimmy O‘Dea and Maureen Potter.
They were as much part of Christmas as the tree, the twinkling fairy lights, the turkey and ham, the cards, the carol singing and Santa himself.