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panto-demic TV star Alan Hughes speaks of struggle to find stage staff ahead of this year's panto

Alan said many of those who worked on in theatre before the pandemic have 'left the business'

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Karl Broderick and Alan Hughes

Karl Broderick and Alan Hughes

Karl Broderick and Alan Hughes

TV star Alan Hughes reveals he and his husband Karl Broderick struggled to find background staff to stage their pantomime this year.

He explains how the likes of lighting engineers, technicians and stage crew have drifted into other fields of work due to the pandemic.

“They’ve left the business,” said Alan.

“It’s really hard to find the creative talent that used to be there because during the pandemic they left and got full time jobs because there was no sign of any work coming back and it’s really affected a lot of people and disgracefully its effected the way it has and the way the arts have been treated.

“I know they gave grants and they helped people, but it was just totally neglected and it’s so sad to see people that we had working for us for years are now in jobs that they don’t particularly want to be in but they had no choice, they’ve families, they couldn’t just live of 350 quid a week, they just had to go out and try and get some other work, so it’s really difficult for everybody at the moment

“We now have a guy coming back from England to work for us because we have to literally try and widen the net, so that’s the type of thing you’re doing, you’re widening the net to the UK and stuff like that, but he’s Irish and he’s just coming back to work for us.

“That’s what we are doing, we are literally trying to go abroad because we can’t get the technicians, we can’t get the background crew that we would normally have and it’s just very sad.”

He will now stage Aladdin in Dublin’s National Stadium from December 9.

“Look, we are all set and it’s going to be great and we have everybody now and everything is falling into place, but we did find it quite difficult at the start,” he points out.

“We are going to the National Stadium. The home of boxing is now the home of panto. It’s a 2,000-seater, we are going to bring it down to a mini arena of 750 seats.”

He is also delighted the rent of the stadium will go toward boxing development.

“Fergal Carruth, the CEO of the Boxing Federation of Ireland, Michael Carruth’s brother, and he said every penny made over the next few years that we pay into them will go into youth boxing to find the next Kellie Harrington or Katie Taylor or Michael Conlan,” he stresses.

“We are giving back, especially after Covid. We are always saying on Ireland AM to support local and the fact we are able to do that and know the money we are giving to that is going to youth boxing. I just looked at Karl and said ‘we have to do this’.”

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Among those taking part, besides his own character of Sammy Sausages and Buffy the panto dame, are Jake Carter as Aladdin, Johnny Ward, and West End star Emma Warren as Jasmine.

Alan had to stage his panto outdoors last year at Malahide Castle, where fans had to sit in their cars and watch the show.

“Last year I was delighted we had that because it gave our cast and crew some work which they hadn’t had. I was delighted at that and just delighted to be back live this year because that’s where panto is, that’s where the magic happens, when you’re in front of the live audience and you are doing your stuff, especially panto because they respond to you and the kids are shouting back at you and we do the daddy dance, so it is brilliant and the National Stadium is going to lend to that, we are just so excited about that because it’s just a gorgeous venue,” he notes.

He admits he struggled personally last year.

“Lockdown was tough, it was tough for everybody,” he confirms. “Thankfully I had work to go to and I felt like I was contributing because people were sending us in messages and texts every morning, saying ‘if it wasn’t for you, you are really helping me through this’ because of the normality of you being there every morning, but I did find it very difficult and I know a lot of people might think ‘oh look at you, you are always laughing, you are always smiling’ and stuff like that.

“But the second time around after the second lockdown, it just took its toll on me and I was getting really down and I found it very difficult. Luckily Karl was very calm, as he is a real introvert and he suffers from his anxiety and stuff like that, so he was quite happy not having to go out and stuff like that.

“We got through it and I know there is rising numbers, but we need to fix the health system, not close things down again because I just don’t think people’s mental health or general wellbeing would be able for another lockdown.”

Alan is the longest remaining presenter of Ireland AM on Virgin Media.

“I’m there 21 years,” he confirms. “ Myself, Muireann (O’Connell) and Tommy (Bowe) are having a great time. We are having such great fun on the show, it’s really brilliant.

“Muireann fitted in so well. We are loving it. We are actually having a really great time, and we are getting great comments and ratings, so it is obviously working.”

More details on www.panto.ie

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