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‘I felt safe, everyone had a mask and the kids had a ball’

There was only excitement and joy outside the Gaiety theatre in Dublin on Sunday afternoon, as children waited to watch the first showing of its annual pantomime.

The show, The Little Mermaid, began its six-week run in the 150-year-old venue much to the delight of ticket holders who were nervous about whether the show would go ahead.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) last week recommended to Government that children under 12 should avoid “indoor seasonal events” for the next two weeks due to a high level of Covid-19 in that age group.

However, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said it was up to parents as to whether children could attend these events over the weekend, as the Government would make a formal decision on Tuesday.

While the Government considers the recommendations, those in attendance at the Gaiety panto on Sunday felt safe and excited that they could witness the festive showpiece.

Jennifer Rattigan and her three daughters – Evie (4), Jayda (5) and Callie Mae (7) – had tickets to the show for November 30th, but following the recent recommendations they bought a second set of tickets for Sunday in case the later date was cancelled.

“We decided to get tickets today in case we couldn’t go on the original date. It’s not fair on the kids, they’re after missing out on so much already with school, lessons and dancing,” she said.

“At the start of the lockdown, all of the emphasis was on the kids, people were moving out of your way, it was like they have the plague. I do think the kids are being punished unnecessarily.”

Ms Rattigan asked if children could go to school, matches could continue outdoors and adults could attend nightclubs, “then why can’t children go to a little show when all the precautions have been taken?”

Susanna O’Toole was in attendance with her sisters, nieces, nephews and daughters.

“The show was brilliant. It was lovely, the kids had a ball. I felt safe, everyone had their mask on and it was totally safe,” she said after seeing the production.

“We were glad we got to see it because we were planning on booking the Olympia panto on Stephen’s Day and then when we heard that thing about the under-12s, we said there’s no point in booking it now. You only go for the kids.”

Priscila Centenaro was attending with her seven-year-old daughter Haily, who had never attended a show before.

“This is a classic of Disney. That’s why I brought my little one, so she knows the story. I read to her so this time she can actually see it,” Ms Centenaro said.

Asked if recent advice about children being indoors made her nervous, Ms Centenaro said “not at all”.

“In winter normally everybody gets a cold. It’s just happy days and enjoyment.”

Friends, from left, Mia Sokolwski, Haily Gdowska and Julia Sokolwski from Portlaoise before the start of The Little Mermaid pantomime. Photograph: Tom Honan
Friends, from left, Mia Sokolwski, Haily Gdowska and Julia Sokolwski from Portlaoise before the start of The Little Mermaid pantomime. Photograph: Tom Honan

Peter Sokolwski who attended with his eight-year-old twin daughters said they were there for fun after a very challenging year and a half.

He said he was “absolutely not” nervous about being indoors with his children, despite recent advice from health officials and high daily case numbers.

“I have my vaccination so everything is alright,” he said.

“They’re kids. They’re supposed to be outside. They’re supposed to be playing. They’re supposed to have fun.”

Lynsey Feeney, from Dublin 2, attended with her two daughters, Penny (7) and Priya (5), and their cousins.

Sisters Penny and Priya Feeney before the start of the Gaiety pantomine. Photograph: Tom Honan
Sisters Penny and Priya Feeney before the start of the Gaiety pantomine. Photograph: Tom Honan

“It’s Christmas, we just said we would do something with them before they are locked back up,” she said.

Ms Feeney said she was fully vaccinated and felt she couldn’t keep telling her children they couldn’t do things.

“It is hard when you’re stuck. I live in an apartment and I’ve another baby at home, so the minute it goes dark we don’t move. And now we can’t go anywhere seeing Santa or anything like that,” she added.

Minister for Culture Catherine Martin has announced that extra money will be found if necessary to support those staging pantomimes and other Christmas theatre events that might be affected by the Covid pandemic.

The new scheme, which has €2 million in funding, will open on Monday for venues and producers putting on pantomimes and other Christmas events.

Under this scheme commercial operators will be able to apply for up to 50 per cent of their costs back if the pandemic interrupts the production.

Asked if there has been any clarity on rules around pantomimes over the weekend, a Government spokeswoman said the Nphet advice had been communicated to the Minister and Government in the usual manner.

“Government will consider any recommendations arising at the next Cabinet meeting,” she added.

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