Mary has magic of panto all sewn up

Mary Loughnane and Riona Heneghan work on the costumes for the 38th annual Renmore Pantomime. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.
Mary Loughnane and Riona Heneghan work on the costumes for the 38th annual Renmore Pantomime. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Lifestyle – Judy Murphy meets Mary Loughnane, the woman responsible for costumes in Galway’s biggest festive production

Mary Loughnane shared her house with a giant last year.  He was a bit battered and worse for wear after years in commission and needed refurbishment in advance of the 2015 Renmore Pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk.  The giant was resting in Mary’s guest bedroom, because she’s in charge of costumes for the city pantomime group, whose regular shows are part of Galway’s Christmas tradition. She brought him home so that her husband Frank could give him a makeover.

Sitting up in bed in a downstairs bedroom, gazing out at the world, he was better than any guard dog, she says with a laugh.

There’s been no need for such drastic action this year as Renmore Panto prepares for its current show, Red Riding Hood, which opens this Friday, December 30.

As we meet, Mary is getting set for the dress rehearsal when she’ll make any necessary adjustment to costumes before the opening night.

“It’s the magic,” she says of her enthusiasm after more than three decades with Renmore Panto. “Watching the children and the passion they have.”

She’s been involved in the Pantomime since she and Frank moved to Renmore about 35 years ago. She can’t remember offhand when exactly she started and says, “I wasn’t into costumes then. I helped with make-up”.

However, when her now adult children David and Valerie joined the junior performers, known as the Smurfs, Mary’s involvement increased.

“It was a real community spirit and Joe McCarthy was at the heart of it all,” she says referring to the founder and driving force of the Panto, Cork-born Joe McCarthy.

“I always liked musicals and Joe asked if I’d help out with costumes. I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Mary had always had an eye for fashion and colour, a talent she honed while working in Vogue Boutique on Mainguard Street (long gone).  She was also able to cut patterns, a vital skill in a fledgling pantomime group which had buckets more enthusiasm than cash.

Three decades ago, everything worn by the performers was made in-house. These days, most Renmore Panto costumes are bought or hired from Pat McGann Theatrical Costumes and Fancy Dress shop in Limerick, says Mary.

“In the early days, it was a huge community effort, especially with the small children. The parents made all their costumes. I’d cut out the material and they’d sew them,” she recalls.

But parents are busier now.

“Time is a big thing,” she observes, pointing out that in the 1970s, women tended to give up work when they had children, unthinkable now.

Costume-making aside, however, the basics of her job remain the same.

The first thing Mary does each year is meet with Panto directors Seán and Brian Power, to go through the script with them.

“I dress the principal performers first, by looking at them and their characters,” she explains. Next, she moves on to the other performers, including the chorus. And she has a special fondness for the villagers.

“Every panto needs a villager scene,” she says of the group that observe and comment on happenings. There are 16 villagers this year, 14 females and two males, all in vivid costumes.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.