Over the years, I’ve shed a few tears in Portlaw, the place that I call home, for all the various reasons we humans tend to.
But never in all my life has it been catalysed by the sort of comic brilliance that made the village’s 29th pantomime, ‘Sinbad the Sailor’ stand alone in terms of genuine, constant, gag upon gag hilarity.
I may be viewed as being somewhat biased, but I’ve participated and watched enough pantos over the years to spot a good one from a fair one, etc.
Well, as the tears cascaded down my cheeks, much to the amusement of a child alongside me who may well have feared for my wellbeing during the second half, I was in no doubt about where this panto ranked. I’ve never seen a more enjoyable one.
From start to finish, this was a wonderful, riotous romp, made particularly memorable by the terrific comic timing of a host of actors.
The gag reel at the Premier Hall was led by the Freddies Kelly and Laffan (Whitey Snow and Mother Salubria), the latter maintaining his ‘not out’ innings in Portlaw productions.
Not too far behind on the gag list were Derek Laffan (Captain Colombo), James Walsh (a camp beyond description Sultana Cake) and Stephanie Maguire (Red Rudolf), all of whom clearly revelled in their respective roles.
In truth, every principal player (and a few supporting actors to boot) got their shot at comedy, due in no small part to the wonderful direction provided by Nicky Cummins, who delightfully keeps coming back to Portlaw for more.
The time-honoured panto staple – the mime – which can just as easily fall flat on its face as tickle every available funny bone, struck the desired note here.
It provided Darren Foran (Jack), Kieran Laffan (Chamberlain) and well-known Waterford hurling backroomers Paul Kelly and Derek Delaney with spot-on cameos that had a few audience members hyperventilating. And yes, that included me!
Ann Nolan (Peri of the Ruby Ring), reprising a role she played in 1995 held her composure marvellously in the face of some time-honoured giggle-inducing ad-libbing by Freddie Kelly.
Like the rest of the cast, including Anthony Power (Muscles), Ann clearly had a ball and it made the night all the more enjoyable from both a performing and viewing perspective.
The fun of ‘Sinbad’ was simply unrelenting, with the craic that the young and not quite as young performers had up there in front of us positively bounding off the stage.
David Walsh ticked every sinister sneaky box as the villainous Count Draculation, while Jamie Power (Sinbad) and Niamh Doherty (Selina) made for a sweet leading couple.
Darren Butler (Prince Rory) and Lillian Keyes (Princess Aisling) were the other romantic pairing of the production, with the latter’s powerful renditions providing the singing highlight of the production.
The wonderful ‘Tiny Tots’, schooled by Faith Mulcahy Drohan and the chorus, choreographed by Jennifer White, were equally well drilled, with Hayley Fitzsimons proving a ‘knock out’ given her contribution to the narrative!
Steve Bailey commandeered a slick musical operation, with the show’s play list a mix of old favourites and modern day hits, along with a few parochial inspired takes on a couple of classics: in other words, something for everyone.
This was a barnstorming night’s entertainment, the perfect antidote to the all too pervasive doom and gloom that the economic downturn has provided us with.
Something should be pointed out, though: Portlaw’s pantomime has, for the vast majority of its existence, been performed amidst the backdrop of local industrial decline.
The boards have been treaded out Clodagh way through the closures of two tanneries and the bakery and kept smiles on thousands of faces since 1980.
If its sole purpose was to take our minds off such woes, then it’s thoroughly succeeded. But of course, it’s done a hell of a lot more than just that.
Next year marks Portlaw Musical Society’s 30th annual production. With the hard working committee set to re-double its efforts for this special milestone, ‘Sinbad the Sailor’ has set the bar tremendously high for the next show.
Here’s to more singing, dancing and mad as a box of frogs-inspired hilarity courtesy of the men, women, boys and girls of the Tannery Town. Roll on 2010!