Radio documentary with pantomime legend Billa O’Connell

Ciara O'Rourke

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This documentary is based on the life of renowned theatrical performer, Billa O’Connell.

Born on Christmas day in 1929, Billa devoted over fifty years of his life to the pantomime and theatre. He is a genuine living legend of his generation and is still in high demand today.

Photo credit – Cork City Libraries

This is a performative documentary, where Billa reminisces over tales of times gone by of his life both on and off the stage, and why he will always miss the pantomime.

Along with Billa’s anecdotes and great humour for storytelling, he speaks fondly of his wife of sixty years, Nell O’Connell.

It explores audio from Billa’s numerous appearances on The Late Late Show with Gay Byrne, and also includes the Corkman playing the ultimate seanchaí and singing songs with his son Bill.

Furthermore, the Technical Director of The Gaeity Pantomime, Matthew Cregan, gives a fascinating insight into what is involved behind the scenes of a modern day pantomime.

This highlighted the modern side of panto, as he spoke to The Circular about the advances in technology on the stage and the sheer volume of work that is involved in producing a show. Mr. Cregan showed everything from an intriguing tour of The Gaiety theatre backstage and under the stage, to the history and great restoration works that are associated with the incredible building today.

The documentary takes the listener through Billa’s life growing up in Cork city, his work with Beamish and Crawford and his theatrical life that began in Cork Opera House. This in turn pulls the listener in, allowing them to imagine sitting in the audience of the Late Late Show or the pantomime, participating in one of Billa’s many incredible stories.

Opera House

Photo credit – www.flickr.com – Alder Cass

Despite his 86 years, the showman has a glint in his eye for humour, but also a very humble and kind outlook on life.He is a refreshing voice to hear amongst the numerous atrocities currently taking place around the globe.

His autobiography, ‘Just Billa’, written by Michael O’Connor, gives a great insight into his life both on and off the stage. Cork County Sound C103 radio broadcaster John Greene also has a wealth of knowledge and facts about panto in Cork and its popularity.

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Ciara O'Rourke