Centre stage for Christmas
It will be drama all the way in the O’Leary household this Christmas, with a mother and two daughters starring in the pantomime at the Cork Opera House.Valerie O’Leary is playing the evil Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland while two of her seven children, Claire (14) and Eva (16), are sharing the role of Alice in a production that started previewing last night and opens on Thursday.
For the girls, schoolwork has been sidelined since rehearsals started on November 12th. The Loreto Secondary School in Fermoy, where Claire is in her Junior Cert year and Eva in fifth year, has been very understanding, says Valerie. “But they will have a lot of catching up to do when they go back,” she says.
However, after her daughters auditioned in August and then heard in early September that they would be sharing the title role, “there is no way we could prevent either girl from doing this”, she adds.
A drama teacher and actor, Valerie has passed her love of acting on – her eldest daughter, Sally, is at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, while one of her three sons, Stephen, is a full-time student at the Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin. And at least one of their sisters definitely wants to follow their lead.
“There really isn’t much hope for us having an accountant,” jokes Valerie. “I certainly am not forcing them – what I am worried about is getting them back to school in January.”
Claire and Eva take drama classes at the Montfort College of Performing Arts, where their mother teaches, and they learn ballet and modern dance classes at the Cork Arts Studio.
As the only minors in the pantomime’s principal cast, it is “a fantastic life-learning experience for them”, says Valerie. “They are seeing all this put together and they are making lots of new friends.”
With an age difference of only 18 months, the sisters are the same measurements for the Alice costumes and wig that were made to fit.
“At the start of the rehearsals the cast kept mixing us up,” says Eva. “But they have gotten used to us now.”
Two teenage sisters sharing one role might have their moments but Valerie says her initial worries about sibling rivalry have proved unfounded. Apart from the usual rows over make-up and the hair straightener, “they are getting on better now than they ever did. I was worried about that before but they are helping each other and they shared the PR. Eva did a radio ad, Claire did TV 3; Claire is on the wall of the Opera House, Eva is on the bus stop. We don’t want an unhappy house.”
Claire confirms she and Eva are getting on better and has nothing bad to say about sharing the part with her sister. “To us it a fantastic opportunity, and in full-time rehearsals it’s good to have each other.”
With weeks of rehearsal and now facing into a 58-show run, Claire says she and her sister don’t see much of home and their baby sister Rose (four) these days (although Rose, too, makes an appearance in the pantomime – on an audio-visual recording as the mini queen).
Valerie says she gets nervous before every show she does, “no matter what it is”, but this time around she will also be excited for her daughters. “They will be nervous but once they get the first two or three shows over . . .”
Eva says she can’t wait for what will be their busiest and most exciting Christmas ever. “Panto has always been a part of our Christmas for as long as I can remember,” she adds, “but this year will be the most memorable.”
There will be no over-doing the celebrations on Christmas Day for the three of them at home in Rathcormac because, although they get two days off, there is both a matinée and night show on St Stephen’s Day.
Valerie enjoys cooking but admits she wouldn’t mind not playing the lead role in the kitchen this Christmas. “I would like if somebody else invited us to dinner – but they wouldn’t want to see nine of us coming.”