Catch a glimpse behind the stage curtain on The Everyman Tour

Every Wednesday and Saturday at 1pm, The Everyman invites you to step behind the curtain on the immersive back-stage tour if the theatre. Today’s tour guide is local actor and performer Damien Punch. His sidekick Jimmy Bray will undergo transformations as move through this old and still glorious building. We meet in the foyer, says
Brendan McCormack, and with much ado, some song, and a little speech; Damien and Jimmy get the tour started.

“The oldest purpose built theatre in Cork!
 In fact the oldest in Ireland, outside of Dublin, but this is Cork, and we don’t concern ourselves with provincial cities such as Dublin or wherever.”

It was built in April, 1897. We go outside onto MacCurtain Street, named after Tomás McCurtain, mayor of Cork, who was killed in 1920. 

“During the infamous burning of Cork city in 1920 witnesses reported seeing a group of 14 to 18 black and tans firing wildly for upwards of 20 minutes on this Street.
Patrick Street was ablaze. Two thousand Cork men, women and children were left jobless and homeless.

But not MacCurtain Street – this theatre known then as Dan Lowry’s Palace of Varieties was a favourite of the soldiers. Perhaps this street and all these old Victorian buildings stand thanks to this fine old theatre.”

We are brought back inside, into the theatre itself. It is a wonder of colour, lights and atmosphere. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, the Everyman Palace Theatre is done out in a Neo Byzantine, Victorian, Vaudeville era style of architecture.
 The Theatre was designed by the Architect Richard Henry Brompton from Aberdeen who spent much of his life in Japan where he designed over 30 lighthouses. He relocated to Cork for the building of Dan Lowrey’s Palace of Varieties.”

Jimmy emerges as Sandow the Strongman!

“Power personified!
 The Iconic Victorian Builder of Bodies.
 With classical Grecian musculature!
 Divinely proportioned!”

The spectacle is extraordinary. The ceiling an exotic geometry of styles borrowed. Another historical figure emerges. A familiar one to all!

“The King of Comedy, The Tramp, The Drunken Fop! The great Charlie Chaplin

Chaplin did perform in here in his earlier years, as part of a troupe. People were astounded by his physical talent. The famous Laurel and Hardy graced this stage too. Their movies and Charlie Chaplin’s were shown here regularly and drew huge numbers.
 We move upwards, after an impromptu performance inspired by the ‘dancing Tiller Girls’, into the Gods. 

“Welcome to the Gods!
 That’s what the good people of Cork named this balcony.
 Take a seat and admire the view.
 They had benches, because the Gods were for the poorer people, they couldn’t afford seats, just a little bum space on a seat.”

“This was once Cork’s major cinema.
 To give you an example of how many people would attend a popular film, in 1961 Ben Hur was shown here and over 60,000 tickets were sold on a 9 week run.” 

The population of Cork was only about 100,000. We all peer down wondering if we can imagine what it must have been like back then. 

We move through the theatre, the dressing rooms, all set up for the night ahead, back down to the foyer where the bar, sadly, is closed. Damien and Jimmy regale us with one last song before we go back out into the day’s light and noise. 

I should do this more often. I should go to the theatre more often. The Everyman’s tour guide/actor troupe includes some of Cork’s finest: Rosie O’Regan, Ciara Morrin, Ciaran MacCartain, Jimmy Bray and Damien Punch.  Is there anything more magical than actors performing in front of us? Promises, promises! I’ll be back though. This magic has got into me.

Brendan McCormack

Brendan McCormack is a features writer for the West Cork People.

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