A Drama Group Spreads Theatre in Ballyfermot and Cherry Orchard

It was a big roaring fart that did it. When it came out, the crowd went wild.

Cinderella, the pantomime, played to sold-out crowds in Cherry Orchard last weekend. The biggest reaction was when the Ugly Sisters lined up a yoga class, to try to get in shape to woo the prince.

“Oh I love doing yoga, Agatha,” says one of the sisters, “it always helps me to get my farts out.” She lets rip, to laughter and cheers from the audience

“Ah Janey Mac, Gretchen,” says the other sister. “That one’s a stinker.”

The sketch got the thumbs-up from the children in the hall of the Cherry Orchard Community Centre after the show, on Sunday last. “I liked the yoga fart the most,” said Charlie Farrell Kane, aged five.

That yoga fart sketch consistently drew the largest reaction from the kids in the audience, says the writer of the script, Michael Banks, who also played the servant Buttons in the pantomime.

The overall performance went down well with the audience too. The localised telling of the well-known tale sees the Ugly Sisters and Cinderella compete for the love of the Prince of Cherry Orchard.

“It was awesome,” said Alex Traynor, aged nine. He couldn’t rate the performance, he said because “there is not a number big enough”.

It was the first time the local drama group Basement Productions had performed a pantomime, and the first time Banks had written a script.

The group were also involved in the Passion Project, an on-street performance in Ballyfermot last Easter, which explored the theme of the housing crisis. It was led by professional theatre group Brokentalkers, in collaboration with hundreds of members of the local community.

Later this year, the theatre companies will get together again to put on another performance – this one to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of Ballyfermot, says director Billy Mangan, a Ballyfermot local and founding member Basement Productions.

Cinderella

“There hasn’t been a panto done in the area and we were looking for something to do,” says Michael Banks, from Palmerstown, while sitting in the empty theatre after the play is over, still dressed as Buttons.

Basement Productions were looking for a play that they had the actors for, so they decided to write one themselves, he says

Banks had always wanted to try. He wrote the first draft of the script in an afternoon. “It just came out,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a genius or anything. I mean, it’s Cinderella.”

After that, everyone in the cast chipped in with gags and scripting as they rehearsed the play. They “added bits in and took bits out, so it took on a life of its own”, Banks says.

It was amazing, listening from back stage to the children in the audience reacting to the lines he’d written, he says.

The first performance was in the local school, for kids aged four to six. At one point, he recalls, the wicked stepmother tells Cinderella she smells bad, a little girl jumped up from the audience and shouted: “She doesn’t smell like that, she smells like love and perfume.”

“Honestly, just hearing that made it all worth it,” Banks says.

He won’t be writing the script for the next play Basement Productions performs, but he is really excited about it too.

They will be celebrating the seventieth anniversary of Ballyfermot with a play set in the Dublin tenements, he says.

That performance should spark conversations within local families, he says. “A lot of people from Ballyfermot came from there, so the younger generation will learn something they didn’t know,” he says. “It’s exciting.”

First-Time Pantomime

Basement Productions has been around for 20 years, says Mangan. It’s made up of people from the Ballyfermot area and others with connections there.

They used to perform regularly in the local pub, and have attended some amateur drama festivals down through the years, he says.

“We would normally do traditional Dublin plays, O’Casey plays, that kind of thing. We are hoping to do Juno and the Paycock next September,” he says.

The idea behind the group is “trying to bring theatre to the local community”, says Mangan, in places where “a lot of people wouldn’t normally go to plays”.

They’d never ventured into pantomime before, but they would happily do so again. “The feedback from the cast and everyone is that we will definitely do one again next year,” he says.

As well as performing in local schools and the local community centre in Cherry Orchard, the group brought the pantomime in St John of God’s in Islandbridge, says Mangan, a school for children with learning disabilities.

Joyce Jackson of the Ballyfermot Festival Committee said in a presentation to the local area committee of Dublin City Council last Wednesday that there is a hunger for more performance art in the D10 area since the Passion Project.

The festival committee hope to roll out a number of performance events this year to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of Ballyfermot. “We believe the arts are transformative, we believe in the power of arts,” she said.

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