THE PERFORMING Arts School Galway’s annual panto takes to the boards next week and this year’s offering is The Frog Prince.
As usual the PASG panto is scripted by veteran writer Maeve Ingoldsby who has written numerous plays for children as well as scripts for radio and television - and enough pantos to qualify as a ‘panto dame’ in her own right.
Indeed it was panto which provided Ingoldsby with her first career break as a professional author, as she recalled during a visit to Galway for Frog Prince rehearsals.
“I was always scribbling little parodies and sketches but the first thing I ever got paid for was a panto,” she says. “That was Cinder Eile, as Gaeilge, for the Damer in Dublin in 1977 or 1978. That was how I started; I then got into doing material for Maureen Potter, doing scripts for Taibhdearc, comedy scripts for radio and TV; then I started writing plays, but it was panto that gave me my start.”
Ingoldsby outlines how she combines topicality and tradition in her panto scripts.
“You have to tell the basic fairy story but whatever variation you use depends on the circumstances of the time,” she says. “With the first Cinderella I did, I had the two ugly sisters working in the sorting office of An Post.
“I use whatever is topical; I remember doing Dick Whittington in Cork while a bin strike was on and that was very topical because there were rats all over the place! This year we’re doing The Frog Prince but it also incorporates the ‘Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe’, she has a clatter of children and in these depressed times with child benefit cut that certainly makes for topical humour. You have to use the familiar “look behind you” and “oh yes he is” bits as well, otherwise kids feel cheated.”
This is Ingoldsby’s fifth year writing a panto for PASG, a partnership that stems from the strong creative affinity between herself and PASG producer/choreographer Paula McGurrell.
“I first worked with Paula on a revue in the Taibhdhearc and we really hit it off,” Ingoldsby reveals. “At the time we agreed we should work together again, so she called me a couple years later and said she was doing a panto and would I like to write it. We’ve done five together now and I wouldn’t miss it for anything, I really enjoy working with PASG.”
Ingoldsby exudes a palpable delight and excitement about this year’s panto. “I think this year is going to be different and exciting,” she enthuses. “The Frog Prince isn’t a well known story, I don’t think it’s been done anywhere for a few years now.
“I wanted to play to the strengths of the Performing Arts School; they have a marvellous troupe of players. In my version of The Frog Prince story, the spell has been cast but he hasn’t actually been turned into a frog yet.
“It’s a race; he has to find a princess to fall in love with before the spell takes effect. But of course he gets distracted when he meets one of the daughters of the old woman who lives in the shoe and he deviates from his search and he slowly starts to become a frog.
“Sean O’Meallaigh is the Frog Prince and he’s excellent. Director Jaimie Carswell has done a lot of physical theatre so there’ll be a lot of that and very visual comedy. Gavin Ferry plays the baddy this year, he’s normally the hero but he’s a great villain.”
The show features a cast of some 150 performers, and as well as the comedy, and assorted thrills and spills of the story there are also plenty of musical numbers guaranteed to entertain young and old alike.
Ingoldsby’s final comment on the show is to advise audiences to book early: “Last year, there were people trying to get tickets toward the end of the run who had to be turned away because we were totally sold out, so I would really encourage people to book early, and I do believe it will be a great show that everyone will enjoy.”
The Frog Prince runs in the Black Box from Monday December 28 to Sunday January 3 at 2.30pm and 7.30pm each daily – except for December 31 and January 3; on those dates there are no evening performances. Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777.