It’s Panto season once again and where better to come see the festive Panto than right here in Derry at the Millennium Forum. It really is the best Panto going. It’s an integral part of the Christmas season and the festivities are not festive without the much renowned Derry Panto.
It wouldn’t be Christmas without a pantomime and with Conal Gallen preparing for his role as
‘Buttons’, this year’s production at the Millennium Forum promises to be the must-see show of the
Conal leads an all-local cast in Cinderella which opens at the North West’s premier theatre on
Thursday 1 st December and runs until Monday 2 nd January.
A Christmas pantomime is a Derry tradition where many memories are made and this year’s offering
at the Forum promises to be the best yet! The classic tale is brought to life with a generous helping
of witty jokes, dazzling special effects, catchy tunes and some stellar dance routines from a home-
Proudly sponsored by the Richmond Centre, the North West’s biggest pantomime features a star
studded local cast including Conal Gallen as ‘Buttons’, Jasmine Gardiner as ‘Cinderella’, Dylan Reid as
Prince Charming, Karen Hawthorne as ‘Fairy Godmother’ and Keith Lynch and Jim Lecky as the
outrageous Ugly Sisters. This seasonal treat is sure to be a hit with audiences far and wide. Grant
some wishes of your own this December and head over to the Millennium Forum for some festive
I’ve been writing about and reviewing the Derry Panto for many years now and it never fails to disappoint. In fact I feel this year, it’s going to be bigger, stronger and even more powerful than ever. The world is very much celebrating a more relaxed mode of life post-covid at present and our Panto is set to bring us all together and make us smile once more.
I was absolutely delighted to speak to Buttons, aka Conal Gallen, and the wonderful Fairy Godmother, aka Karen Hawthorne, earlier this week as they are deep in the throes of rehearsals. They took time out of their very busy schedule to tell me about their thoughts on Panto and their preparations to date.
Karen who played the ‘evil fairy’ last year is now the good fairy this time around. Just how different is this role? “Completely” she tells me. “The reaction from children when we’re out doing PR has seen children rally around me. They’re flocking for hugs instead of booing”, she laughs.
Last year we were just coming out of covid. We were still wearing masks in the audience. Conal says “it’s very hard to do a show with the audience wearing masks.” Karen “you can’t read if people are enjoying themselves.” So this year we are more excited than ever to see the show. And what better Fairytale to use than the much loved, Cinderella.
How important is Panto to theatre? Karen tells me, “we were just talking about this the other day. It’s a niche all of it’s own. People from other countries look at me and say, ‘What you spend Christmas shouting at people?’ Yes! I think it’s very important. For me it’s at least half of what Christmas needs to be.” Conal says, “I just feel sorry for all the other countries. It’s just a totally different entertainment. I don’t know anybody who could not enjoy Panto. It’s just fabulous.!”
Conal continues, “we have to remember how many people Panto employs. The Panto covers a period of 7 weeks and that’s a big chunk of the year when you consider this industry. This line of employment is precarious anyway. I love it, I absolutely love it” he tells me.
Conal said he was initially overwhelmed with his first Panto as he didn’t realise just how much work was involved. He went on to do it for another 4 years then (right here at the Derry Panto). I always said to David here that I’d love to come back and do it here.” And low and behold, 17 years later, he is doing just that.
How important is the Panto to the city of Derry? Conal and Karen both agree that it’s very important indeed. “People want entertainment. People want to go and see something that gives them a laugh and they leave happy. If the doctor could give you that????” Oh what a prescription it would be indeed.
Stories and Fairytales are very important to myself as I work with children as a Creative Writing facilitator. I wondered if Conal Gallen thinks Fairytales are still an important part of life. “Of course. Fairytales are wonderful. They teach us many lessons. The main one with Cinderella is Kindness and that’s something the whole worlds needs right now”, he said. Those words really do ring so true for us all.
Is there anything new this year? Can we expect any surprises? They gave me a surprise indeed. This year, the Panto is more inclusive than ever before as they tell me, “We have learned Makaton for the show this year and a small part of it will be performed using such.” The Derry Panto is already bigger and better than ever.
As always the Panto is very much centered around song and music. Karen and Conal assure me that there are lots of big songs and well known songs. But they also said that they would both love to have some ‘Meat Loaf’ in there – it’s not to be this year, but maybe next year producers????? Maybe??? Karen says she’s gone this year from ‘Rock Queen to very nice’.
As we rounded up our chat it was so clear to see that these two cast members are very excited to get ready for the onslaught of the Derry Panto. They finish up by telling me that people should come to the Derry Panto because it is ‘traditional and it is the best!’ That’s good enough for me.
To book your tickets, go to https://www.millenniumforum.co.uk/shows/cinderella-2/ or call the Box Office on 02871264455. You really won’t regret it.
Cinderella performs at the Millennium Forum from 1 st December 2022 to 2 nd January 2023. Tickets
are priced from £11.50 and are now available from the Box Office. Telephone 71 264455 or visit
millenniumforum.co.uk for bookings.
Signed Performance – Thursday 8th December 7pm
Relaxed performance/Dementia Friendly performance- Saturday 10th December 2pm
Captioned performance- 18th December 2pm