Fair City’s George McMahon plans annual Irish Pantomime Awards in honour of Maureen Potter

‘I’ve been in touch with Maureen Potter’s family and they like the idea of a National Pantomime Awards in her honour’

Maureen Potter

Eugene MastersonSunday World

Telly favourite George McMahon is planning to kickstart an annual Irish Pantomime Awards in honour of the legendary Maureen Potter.

George, who plays Mondo O’Connell in Fair City, has already been in touch with the late star’s family about having an awards ceremony in her memory, which would also pay tribute to members of the Irish pantomime industry.

“I’ve been in touch with Maureen Potter’s family and they like the idea of a National Pantomime Awards in her honour,” confirms George (38).

Maureen died at the age of 79 in 2004, having starred onstage and screen not only as Ireland’s premier comedienne but also as a straight actress.

The Dubliner’s main acting home was the Gaiety theatre in the capital, where she regularly performed in pantomime at Christmas. Besides being made a Freewoman of Dublin, she was also the first star to be honoured by having her handprints embedded into the pavement outside the famous theatre.

George points out that the UK has the British Pantomime Awards, and Ireland should have a similar set up for the industry here.

“What I need is to get together with the stakeholders, which would be the producers of all the pantomimes,” he explains.

“It’s kind of something that came about before the pandemic. It had been something that had never been celebrated before.”

There are several major pantomime productions in Dublin each Christmas, including ones in the Gaiety, Olympia, National Stadium, Helix and the Civic Theatre.

“Also, you’ve got two massive pantos in Belfast, you’ve got the Lyric and the Grand Opera House,” he adds. You’ve also got the Millennium in Derry. Massive productions.

“There’s the Cork Opera House and the Edelman there as well, then in Limerick there’s the University Concert Hall one

“Then there’s loads of little local pantos popping up and there’s an audience for each of them.”

George, who himself starred in pantos for several years in Dublin and Limerick before recently taking a break, believes industry members deserve recognition.

“In Ireland there are probably about 15 mainstream pantos on the island of Ireland, that would be competing against each other in terms of Best Panto, Best Baddie, Best Dame, Best Prince, Best Princess, all that kind of stuff,” he notes.

“I think there is definitely scope then to broaden it out then to community pantos and amateur pantos, we would probably do a bronze, silver and gold medal for those pantos

“I think it’s an art form that needs to be celebrated and the fact that I’m not involved in it anymore, in any one particular panto. I think I would be a good person to curate it.”

George and his wife Rachel have two young children, Frankie (four and-a-half) and Kody (a year-and-a-half).

“I’m taking a back seat from panto, just with the age the kids are now, I want to actually bring them to pantos,” he smiles. “That’s what we are doing. It’s actually easier to be in the panto than actually drag them to all the pantos, we have been to about five or six so far now so far and we are only halfway through them.”

George McMahon and wife Rachel Smyth

He love blossomed with Rachel while performing with her in panto in Limerick.

“Limerick is celebrating doing their 10th years down there with Richie Hayes and that’s where Rachel and I really struck up our relationship,” he maintains

“I’ve just been looking at the posters of all the pantos over the years I did down there. I did the Gaiety panto with Rachel as well.”

He would like to see such an awards ceremony held early each year.

“We are kind of compiling what we think the rules to play by and then sourcing judges that have a good and kind of transparent formula to work from, so there’s no question of transparency or politicking done, it’s all done in good faith,” he stresses.

“I do think there is so much variety in the pantos in Ireland, that an awards night like the Maureen Potter Pantomime Awards, that a lot of the pantos would walk away with something

“There would obviously be expenses. We would have to get an Irish designer to make the trophies. There’d have to be the hire of a venue. Then the cost of getting judges around the country. That’s what I’m trying to iron out at the moment.

“I just think it would be a brilliant night out for all the people involved in panto, front of house and backstage, it would be a night for everybody to celebrate the art form

“It’s an opportunity for us all to be together. We have a small enough community, that we’ve all crossed paths with each other somewhere along the way, so we go to see and support our friends in panto.”

He has enjoyed his own time in panto.

“I’ve done so many and I’ve worked with so many panto companies, and I’ve learned from each of the ones I’ve done over the years,” he reflects.

“But I suppose if you want to talk about the spectacular Jack and the Beanstalk in the Gaiety, where the beanstalk goes right up from the orchestra pit right up to the top of the chandelier. The Gaiety always really had that spectacular edge to them

“But I’ve really enjoyed working with all the companies I’ve worked with over the years and I suppose the people that I’ve worked with.

“People always have actors who they look up to and just look at them and say ‘they don’t even need to think where to stand on the stage, they just know how and where to do it’”

Besides the likes of Joe Conlan, there’s another name which strikes a note with him.

“I worked with Adele King (Twink),” he beams. “She played my Ma in Jack and the Beanstalk. I’d argue that she would be the best in the business. She is the last of the great characters in Irish showbiz. There will never be another like her.

“She should be in my eye should be a contender for a lifetime achievement award winner for the inaugural MoPo Awards.”

He is naturally disappointed he never got to meet or see Maureen Potter in real life.

“I was kind of late to the party,” he points out. “I wasn’t a Billie Barry kid and I didn’t really go to that many pantos as a kid

“My first proper awareness and looking into Maureen Potter was around the time Maureen got her hands printed outside the Gaiety on King Street.

“When I was doing panto in the Gaiety then you became very aware of her, her very presence in the building. She would always be referred.

“In the last 20 years then I feel like I’ve gotten to know her, and you look at old videos of Gaels of Laughter, and there’s still a few bits and pieces on You Tube and she was a genius.”

George and Rachel married in Spain in the Summer of 2019, with close friend Keith Duffy officiating. Keith’s actor son Jay was recently chosen by the couple to be their own son Kody’s godfather.

“We were away and we’d quite often meet up with them (the Duffy’s) when we were away in Spain,” he adds. “Jay and Kody instantly bonded when he picked him up. Rachel said to him ‘by the way you’re holding your godson there’. He was delighted. They are best pals.”

George and Rachel also run theatre schools for kids and live in Bettystown, Co Meath.

“We got our mortgage a month before the pandemic,” he reveals.“ We love it out here in Bettystown, we are a 15 minute walk away from the beach and it was a godsend during the lockdown, that we had stuff to do with the kids within our five kilometres.”

George, who has been in Fair City since 2002, is also enjoying his love triangle storyline involving exs Kira and Melanie.

“Lynseyann Mulvey, plays Kira,” he says.

“I think it’s a story I’ve been dying to tell with the return of that character. There’s so much scope for stories for Mondo and Kira. I think Lynseyann is absolutely nailing it. It’s a bit of craic.”

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