SOMETHING rather strange is happening at the rear of Limerick’s Hunt Museum on an unseasonably warm November afternoon.
Characters in full panto garb are wandering around, circling a large spinning wheel, while photographers clamour for pictures. It is panto - UCH style.
Leanne Moore, Keith Duffy, George McMahon, Hilda Fay, Richie Hayes, Richard Lynch and Myles Breen return for another stint in the Robert C Kelly produced Sleeping Beauty.
It is the theatre impresario Kelly’s fourth year producing the panto in the UCH and the cast he has assembled know each other inside out at this stage. Duffy ably filled the rather large shoes vacated by Twink at the last minute last year after “artistic differences” ruled her out and the Boyzone star is back for more this year.
“I am looking forward to it - panto is not something I have done over the 20 years of being in the business. I was offered it many times in the UK and Dublin over the years, the timing wasn’t right for me back then,” he says.
“I didn’t know what I was getting myself in to at the time to be honest, but I have to say - and I know most of the cast for years anyway - but to come and perform with them and, especially being outside Dublin, down in Limerick, it is like a little mini-tour.
“We had such good fun last year, the crowds were fantastic, they loved the show - I enjoyed it an awful lot more than I expected to, so when Robert approached me, I just though yeah, I am going to do this,” he adds.
Fair City actress Fay joins the cast this year and Leanne hailed her as “amazing, because she is just fantastic” - as well as helping to balance the dynamic between the cast.
“It is so much fun, this cast is insanely mental in the best possible way,” said Leanne, making her fourth successive appearance in the panto. “I was kind of outnumbered and then Hilda came along this year, so I am absolutely delighted with that.”
The singer, a self-confessed panto-nut, says Sleeping Beauty is “probably one of my favourite ones to go and see”.
“It is a great one to have - and I get to sleep for the whole show! I am going to be very rested this Christmas, which is good, because I am getting old, so they are giving me a quieter role this year,” she laughs.
Producer Kelly won’t bite on the Twink story other than to say “sometimes you have to change things and move on and that is what we have done”. He claims that the show will feature “probably the largest spinning wheel anyone has ever seen on this coast of the country, the usual beautiful sets, fabulous costumes and really up to date music that people will recognise”.
But he knows where the strength lies in this show: “I think we have the greatest cast in Ireland. A great Limerick strength as well as big stars from across Ireland.”