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Gaiety panto 2017

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The Gaiety Panto: “It’s a challenge, but it’s really, really rewarding”

Love/Hate and Fair City star Johnny Ward talks his return to the Gaiety Theatre for pantomime season

HAVING STARTED OUT way back in 1873, the Gaiety Panto is a Dublin Christmas institution, a classically playful comedy returning night after night with plenty of stories… ahem… behind them.

This year, the age-old performance on offer is a stage adaptation of Rapunzel, featuring the return of Ireland’s most famous pantomime dame for the 28th time, as well as Ciara Lyons in the hair-y title role, and former Love/ Hate man Johnny Ward fitting right in as Johnny B. Goode.

For all the throwaway, sporadic feel of panto, though, the Gaiety offering is a serious undertaking, at least internally. For the cast, Christmas starts the morning after Halloween, with rehearsals underway in earnest.

“There are three days off scheduled for the entire run,” Ward tells us, as he returns to the Gaiety following his earlier appearances in Cinderella (2012) and Peter Pan (2014). “It’s hectic, but I remember it as a child and it means a lot, it’s a real Christmas tradition. You have to be aware of that when you’re performing in it. I met my girlfriend through my part in the panto in 2012, so it has great memories for me more recently, too.”

Ward is better known for his role as Pauley in Love/ Hate, with his character dying by falling from a balcony. He also stars in Fair City as Ciaran Holloway, so despite his earlier experiences, the panto is far from his usual style.

“Panto is frowned upon by some, especially those actors who only do film and theatre,” he admits. “But I think it’s important to do. There are some great people here. Joe Conlan [the dame] has been doing this forever and doesn’t do anything else as an actor. He specialises because he’s just really good at what he does. Panto isn’t like film and TV, and it’s his forte. He’s a real gentleman, but absolutely nuts with it.”

There are technical challenges that come with the role, however, in particular as it continues night after night. “There’s a part of the script that I read and just thought ‘that’s impossible’, looking at the stage set up, but I had the same experience last time, and it came off, so I’m sure we’ll do it,” Ward explains.