The publication of Declan Hassett’s book, Make ‘Em Laugh!, is a fine addition to a depleted national archive on comedy and popular theatre in Ireland. As a joint venture between the Cork-based Collins Press and the Cork Everyman Palace Theatre, it possibly errs in its subtitle – A Golden Age Of Theatre – when it obviously means and sets out to re-call a golden age of Cork theatre. But it lays down a model that so far nobody in Waterford has approached – more’s the pity.
In his preface, Declan Hassett makes no bones that he is writing the story of Cork comedy theatre and whether it was a true golden age only time will tell. The story of telling looks at different performers and this gives occasion to needless repetition. For example, several chapters repeat that the late Charlie Hennessy, who was a senior partner in a reputable Cork legal firm, adopted a stage name Cathal Stenson in order not to attract undue attention of clients to his creative life.
The chapters on Michael Twomey and Frank Duggan cover a whole range of comedy as they were, and still are, the wonderful Miah and Cha. You get a great overview of panto down through the years but curiously there is no mention of Bryan Flynn’s work at the Opera House, despite Everyman’s 2008/9 panto getting a plug.
Jim Nolan gets a mention from Niall Toibin in a chapter that looks at Joe Lynch, Danny La Rue, Cecil Sheehan and Chris Curran. The legendary Billa O’Connell chapter is a practical example of the trials and tribulations of making a living as a local celebrity.
Most enjoyable are the selections on Only Slagging, The Swans and Summer Revels and at one time there were at least six local area pantos as well as the two major venue shows.
Waterford theatregoers would remember the WDS actor, Michael McAuliffe and singer/performer Noel Murphy who starred in De La Salle’s award winning The King And I. The section of Cork Musical Societies is disappointing and I understand there is no AIMS society in Cork City now.
There is a fine section on Cork baritone David McInerney who sang at the Waterford International Festival Of Light Opera but he dismissed Tops Of The Town, when at a National Quarter Final in the Cork Opera House – one side of the house would be falling around the place with laughter as they were supporting the show. The other half of the house was in stony silence.
There is a good selection of stories about James N. Healy and The Theatre Of The South, who popularised John B Keane plays. The Bull Island comedy duo of Pierce O’Callaghan and Frank Twomey are well represented.
But I can’t help but feel that the various stories of Waterford theatre, opera and tops, would have a similarly fine publication if the will was there to seek the funding like the Everyman Palace did.