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Alan Hughes slams Stephen Donnelly's panto comments, says it could 'ruin' industry

“We had parents phoning us going ‘if we go to the panto and don’t go to anything else is that alright?’ and we’re going ‘we're not the government, we’re not NPHET, we’re the box office’.”
Alan Hughes

Alan Hughes

Clodagh Meaney

Alan Hughes has slammed Stephen Donnelly's comments about pantomimes, saying he could "ruin" their industry.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly appeared on Today with Claire Byrne on Monday, where he said that children could not attend pantomimes, but advised that there wasn’t “any issue” with children visiting Santa’s grotto.

“A line like that can ruin an industry,” Alan Hughes told the Sunday World.

Alan, who stars as Sammy Sausages in Aladdin at the National Stadium has been an integral part of the Pantomime industry in Ireland for years.

“We had parents phoning us going ‘if we go to the panto and don’t go to anything else is that alright?’ and we’re going ‘we're not the government, we’re not NPHET, we’re the box office’.”

“The entertainment industry was the first to go and the last to get back and now it’s being hammered again,” he added.

Earlier this week, fears mounted in the entertainment industry as Health Minister Simon Donnelly suggested that children between 5 and 11 would not be allowed to attend pantomimes this Christmas. It was originally believed that the government would recommend that parents could use discretion while choosing what events their children could attend.

In new guidelines, released on Tuesday the government have asked parents to "reduce discretionary social contact and for at least the next two weeks," but have said that indoor gatherings "including communions, confirmations, nativity and other seasonal events" should be avoided.

Today, HSE's Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan has told parents that "these events should really not take place at all."

"Parents have a key role to play in reducing transmission within and between households. We know this is an additional burden at what has been a very difficult time for all of us, particularly those of us with young families," he said.

"At this time of year, young children often display respiratory symptoms, and we know that it gets increasingly difficult to isolate and arrange PCR tests repeatedly. But this remains an essential measure to protect families and the wider community."

"Protecting our education system is one of our key priorities. For at least the next two weeks, we can do this by cutting down on our socialisation in other settings."

Alan said that the bookings for his pantomime Aladdin have "just stopped."

“The last week, our bookings have just stopped, we’ve had cancellations."

“The panto industry is definitely going to suffer because of this, the panto industry only has one shot at this every year, it’s not like it’s a 12 month thing,” he said.

“It’s December and the start of January is the only time the panto industry thrives in this country and it’s been hit really badly.”

Alan has also welcomed news that the government will make grants available to those in the industry hit by the restrictions.

“That is greatly appreciated because at this time it’s going to be needed because we are going to need all the support that we can get from the government.”

Alan and the team behind Aladdin have already put many measures in place to ensure the safety of their punters.

“We had already put into place that we would play to 60% occupancy because it’s a 2,000 seater, we’re only selling 700 tickets for every performance in case it went back to the 60% capacity.”

“So we had that contingency plan already, there’s social distancing in place, when you come in [you need to show] Covid certs, it’s social distancing at the bars, you have to wear masks when you go to the toilet and the shops.”

“We just feel this place is so safe for children and adults to come,” he added.

The 58-year-old Ireland AM presenter said he finds the rule that 11 year olds could not attend pantos but 12 year olds could “mind boggling.”

“You just couldn't make it up. I couldn’t believe it.”

He also encouraged everyone to show their support for the entertainment industry this Christmas.

“I just urge everybody to book pantos around the country they're going to need support now more than ever, go to your local theatre and go to the panto because we’re so going to need it, this year it’s going to be a struggle.”

Aladdin, starring Alan Hughes, Jake Carter, Emma Warren, Paul Ryder, Johnny Ward and Rob Murphy is at the National Stadium, Dublin from December 9th to January 2nd.

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