To thousands of children, he’s second only to Santa in the hero stakes this festive season, but Conor O’Kane, the star of the Millennium Forum’s Jack And The Beanstalk, is taking the attention very much in his stride. Conor (22) has been receiving rave reviews for his performance in the professional production, which until next Sunday, January 4th.
The Feeney native said: “I’m finding it brilliant. From day one everyone in the cast has really connected.
“We had just one week of rehearsal so no time to mess around. Everyone was on the ball but still able to have a bit of craic with it.
“This is my first time doing the panto in Derry. I had done the Millennium Forum Youth Theatre, I did shows including Fame, West Side Story, These shows helped me get to drama school at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts.
“I’m based in London and I have had the chance to come back home for three months with this amazing, amazing show and also to be home for Christmas which is great.”
And it can’t be bad playing to your home crowd and getting cheered every step of the way as the goodie of the piece. In the Forum’s adaptation of the folk tale, there are also a few modern twists to keep it current.
“The show is brilliant,” Conor said. “I have got a One Direction song and all the wains go mad for that.
“I don’t get that much interaction with the audience. One moment I do get is selling the cow to the baddie Flesh Creep and the children are screaming their wee hearts out.
“ It is so funny because Jack has to sell the cow and they are so impassioned, so disappointed about this really awful decision. They care about the characters and they care about the story.”
Conor said the Jack and the Beanstalk script is very, very clever, getting laughs from both the children and the adults . A heavy dollop of slapstick has been thrown into the comedy mix, he said, while there is also puppetry in the form of Daisy The Cow and the Giant himself.
“It is a great family show”, Conor said. And his view has been shared by many reviewers who have said this is one of the top pantos ever performed in the north west.
David McLaughlin, Chief Executive of the Millennium Forum and the Producer of this year’s panto, recently said that the performances were “guaranteed to put you into the Christmas spirit”.
And this year, for the first time, a Boxing Day performance was added due to popular demand.
By the end of the run, over 30,000 people will have come along to enjoy the fun- about a third of Derry’s entire population.
Conor’s co-stars include popular comedian, William Caulfield as Dame Trot alongside Gerard McCabe, as Silly Billy,
Conor said that coming back to work with them in Derry post City of Culture year and after four years studying in London, he has seen a landscape that is “completely transformed”.
“The look of it even, with the Peace Bridge, bits and pieces of art all over the place, including the Walls and stuff like that, has changed.
“Also I have a lot more of my actor friends are coming back here to do a lot of work.
“There is definitely a resurgence in terms of what professional work is available.
“The arts sector is growing and developing for definite and that is something I want to see continuing.
“There are so many talented performers in Northern Ireland. Many of them have migrated to bigger cities and it is so lovely to know there are so many professional actors coming back doing the panto, working at the Forum or working in the Playhouse.”
Conor said that given the city;s past prowess as a centre of culture, it was only fitting that it was now being given the opportunity to reclaim the limelight.
He also sees the panto tradition as firmly part of this cultural tradition.
“Derry has a vast history of music, feises and a history of panto. It is a such a massive, massive thing here,” he said.
Since Conor received his training at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts and graduated in 2013 he has been very busy.
His theatre work has included: ‘First Time’ (Rosemary Branch); Edgar and Annabel (Karamel Club); The Martyr (Soho Theatre); Mask of Joy (West End Live); Finding Patrick (Blue Eagle Productions); Anything Goes (Bernie Grant); and The Hired Man (Bernie Grant).
He has also starred in several independent films including KidX (Reaper Studios); Coming to Terms (Roefilms); Heretic (Photon Pictures); An Actors Guide to Resting (Independent).
After the pantomime run Conor looks set to return to London to work on what promises to be a groundbreaking theatre production focusing on Conscientious Objectors.
The new play, which is being developed by Conor and his friends, has sparked interest from various quarters and looks set to be on course for a three week run in a London Theatre in 2015.
“It is such a sensitive topic that we want to get it right,” Conor said.
To catch him in the panto book at the box office on 028 7126 4455 or via the website: www.millenniumforum.co.uk.