PANTO season should well and truly be in full swing in Fermanagh with the Lakeland Players’ production annually taking place in The Ardhowen in mid-January.

However, due to Covid-19, this is the first year since the Lakeland Players started in 1986 that a pantomime has had to be cancelled, said director Stephen Kettyles.

“In fact, we have always gone the other way, with the show proving so popular we have had a to add shows,” he said.

When it was finally decided that the pantomime couldn’t go ahead, at present, Stephen admitted that his first thought was a selfish one.

“For the first time in 26 years, I would be able to put the feet up in front of the fire over Christmas and not have the stress of rehearsals, set-building, costumes etc, and to be honest it worked out like that!

“I had a very relaxing family Christmas for the first time since before I was married,” he said, before adding: “However, in the past two weeks it dawned on me that the panto is about a lot more than the nuts and bolts of producing and directing a show.

“The coming together of everyone involved in the production for two weeks in The Ardhowen is what it’s really about, and that means the coming together of all our loyal supporters as well.

“For the two weeks of production you are in a bubble; everyone is working towards the same goal – producing a show that the whole community can be proud of. That has become very evident in the past week with the messages that we have received via Facebook,” he said.

Stephen noted that over the past weekend, as a group, the Lakeland Players has been getting in touch again via WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger etc with memories of previous shows and people gone by.

“We lost Vincie Donegan and his wife, Maureen, a short time ago, who were instrumental in the early years and the success that the group has gone on to achieve,” said Stephen.

“Looking ahead, we have to be thankful that as a group we haven’t been affected physically by Covid, and we are looking forward to getting back into the swing of things next year again,” he told this newspaper.

In the absence of this year’s show, The Impartial Reporter asked some members of the Lakeland Players to share their favourite memories from over the years.

Catherine Bradley has been a Lakeland Player for eight years and says her favourite character to play was Evil Queen Grimelza, from Snow White.

She explained that her funniest panto memory was when Julian Fowler first tried on his costume for Ali Baba.

“Julian is quite tall and, unfortunately, wasn’t there for his initial costume fitting. He had to wear a toga with jewels on it. Let’s just say the band in the music pit had a good view every night,” laughed Catherine.

Talking about what she misses most about panto season, Catherine said: “The fun and the friendship. Every single person in the Lakeland Players are like family to me now. Panto rehearsals from October is the best tonic anyone could take for the Winter months. Non-stop fun.”

Catherine’s daughter, Anna Bradley, is also a Lakeland Player and has been a member of the chorus for seven years.

“She has made so many friends from the panto and keeps in touch with them throughout the year. Panto is a fantastic experience for all the kids, and you can see their confidence and self-esteem growing every year,” said Catherine.

Anita Maguire has been in the Lakeland Players for 21 years and her favourite panto was Aladdin.

“My role is the Green Room and chaperone for the chorus children. There have been a few very funny moments which probably aren’t printable, but my happiest moments were watching the kids grow in confidence over the years, and know that we played a part in that,” she said.

Ellie Flanagan has been in the Lakeland Players for eight years. Her favourite character to play was Snoozy in last year’s pantomime, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. With the absence of a show this year, Ellie says she has missed seeing all her panto friends and just being part of “something so special”.

“Not only for all of us but for everyone who comes to see our show. It’s like having a second family from October to January, and I really miss that. Pantomime is something to look forward to after Christmas, and gives us such a great start to the New Year,” she said.

Favourite character

Marian Haggins has been in the Lakeland Players for 28 years, taking on roles on and off stage. When asked what was her favourite character to play, she says it is hard to choose between Stepmother in Cinderella, and Miss Kitty, with her Kats, in Jack and The Beanstalk.

She says her funniest/happiest memory was winning a much-coveted ‘Oscar’ two years running in the Special Award Category, never saying the same line twice. “I said the right words, but not necessarily in the right order,” she said.

Noting that she has missed meeting up again with all the group, Marian added: “The friendships that have built up over the years are priceless – they make the Lakeland Players such a special group and will ensure that we come back next year bigger and better, doing what we do best.”

Mark Allen has been a member of the Lakeland Players for 30 years, 25 of which have seen him take on the role of the Panto Dame.

He said: “Definitely missing our panto family and pantoland this year, the fun and craic at rehearsals and at the theatre, and all the fantastic audiences night after night, making all the hard work put in by everyone worthwhile. Here’s to next year – it’s more important now that everyone keeps safe and look after each other.”

Ben Kettyles has performed with the Lakeland Players for nine years. His favourite show to be involved in so far has been Ali Baba: “It was my first year having a principal role, and I enjoyed the challenge of having more to do in the show, but every year that I was a member of the junior chorus was also great fun!”

Sharing a fond memory from panto over the years, Ben said: “I fondly remember the year that snow disrupted one of our matinee performances, so we put on an impromptu three shows in one day the following weekend to compensate for anyone who missed due to the weather.


“The amount of work required to pull this off was immediately worth it, and really went a long way to proving how passionate the members of the group are about putting on the best possible show for audiences each year.”

A member of the Lakeland Players for seven years, Tracey Brown Kernaghan’s favourite character to play has been Queen Rat, in Dick Whittington. “It was a really fun character to play as I was able to incorporate a lot of movement into the role physically,” said Tracey adding: “Also, I got to design my own costume and that year my son, George, was one of my ‘rats’, so we got to be on the stage together a lot.

“I also took on the role nine months after my husband, Gary, had died of cancer and it was a really empowering and comforting experiencing for me. I remember just before I went on for the first show, standing on the wings, and chatting away to Gary to give me the strength to do it.

“I know my director, Stephen, was somewhat worried after the dress rehearsal as I fell to pieces, although he didn’t tell me until after the shows,” said Tracey.

She explained that panto is much more than the shows they do yearly. “It is a family of people who care deeply for each other. Panto has been a real family affair for me, with myself and my three children all being part of it,” she told this newspaper.

The Ardhowen are currently running livestreams of Lakeland Players’ pantomimes from years gone by. These will continue with Beauty and the Beast tonight (Thursday, January 14), Ali Baba on Friday, January 15, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on Saturday, January 15.

The shows are available to view on the Ardhowen’s Facebook page, starting at 7pm each night.