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08 Dec 2021

Panto returns to Derry stage 

The annual Christmas pantomime is returning to the Millennium Forum this winter 

Panto returns to Derry stage 

The annual Christmas pantomime is returning to the Millennium Forum this winter with the production of Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty opens for a month-long run-on Friday November 26. Local actress, Rachael O’Connor, will play the lead alongside popular funny man, William Caulfield, who reprises his role as Dame Nanny Cranny. 

Karen Hawthorne returns as the evil Carabosse. Local actor, Conor O’Kane, will play Prince Charming and Orla Mullan as the Lilac Fairy with Keith Lynch as the loveable sidekick, Pickles. 

It’s been two years since the city has seen a pantomime performed at Christmas due to Covid restrictions. 

Rachael O’Connor said she is looking forward to returning to the Derry stage after a long time of restrictions and lockdown.

The 24-year-old said: “It's so nice being back in the rehearsal room again. I did my last show in January 2020. It's been such a long time for us all to get here, but we've got here.” 

Rachael originally trained for theatre in the Millennium Forum when she was 14 and at just 16 years old, she appeared on the Voice UK as the youngest contestant in team Kylie Minogue. 

Rachael went on to perform with Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance on the London Palladium stage.  

Most recently, Rachael has taken to the stage with legendary band ‘Duran Duran’ as backing vocalist on various shows such as Isle of Wight Festival and The Jonathan Ross Show.  

The Derry native played Snow White in 2019 at Millennium Forum and loves to perform to a home crowd.

She said: “I loved playing Snow White in Derry last time and it's funny because when I was younger, my Granny would have taken me and my cousin's every year to the pantomime, it was an annual thing. 

“I was always jealous of all the children on the stage thinking ‘I wish that was me’ and then here we are. 

"Derry is such a great crowd to perform in front of because everyone's so supportive and everyone cheers and gets involved and they're just so lovely.  

"I do always get nervous, especially on the opening night, just because it's your first time doing it in front of a real audience, but at the minute I'm more excited than nervous.” 

The pantomime is set to run 47 shows throughout the winter season beginning November 26 and wrapping up on January 2. 

Rachael’s co-star, Conor O’Kane, set to play Prince Charming in the production, said it is amazing to be back rehearsing again after such a long time away. 

The 29-year-old Derry man said: “This is the biggest show that I've done since COVID.  I think a lot of us are thinking the same, with getting the voices back in gear and getting the body back in gear, but everyone is in the same boat and we are all ready and excited, we’re flying. 

“Everyone is looking and sounding great. Everyone cannot wait to get back to those local audiences for the first Christmas panto in two years.” 

Conor is 1/4 of The Four Harps and is a co-founder of GOLEM!; a company specialising in repurposing and reimagining original texts. He was also nominated ‘Best Male in a Musical' by Off West End for his performance in ‘Miss Nightingale’ at The Vaults in 2017. 

Conor played alongside Rachael in the 2019 production of Snow White at the Forum and said It is lovely to be back working alongside her and sharing the stage with his niece Olivia.

He said: “I’ve worked with Rachael before; we’ve known each other for years and years. Our first time working together professionally as adults was when we did Snow White in 2019. 

“It's nice just to sort of circle back and come back to where we both started because we both did the Youth Theatre at the Millennium forum as well. 

“There is such a buzz around the building and in rehearsals, it’s like getting back to the family, this isn’t the first time for a lot of us. 

“I think that it's the same in the city. People are definitely really looking forward to doing something that feels traditionally part of Christmas, because they didn't get to do that last year. 

“It’s a whirlwind but we wouldn’t have it any other way.” 

Tickets for this year’s pantomime are available at the box office or at millenniumforum.co.uk 

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