Thursday, 29 December 2016

Mark Lamb: Prince Charming today...but who tomorrow?

It was early December this year and I went along to the Millennium Forum in Derry to interview some of the current Panto cast about their production of Cinderella. I immediately recognised William Caulfield, Keith Lecky, James Lynch and Kathryn Rutherford. They're all familiar faces on the Derry Panto stage. A few days later I spoke with the Fairy Godmother, Orla Mullan, again a familiar local face on the Derry stage. But on that first day I also saw Prince Charming, a young man (then 20, now 21) who happened to be Mark Lamb. He was as charming as one would expect a Prince to be! But something struck me that day talking to this young guy.
When I went along to the said Pantomime a few nights later I can honestly say that this young guy, Mark Lamb, stole the show for me. Maybe I was contemplating that he was the age of my middle son last year, or my youngest son next year, but there was something about him that stole a little piece of my heart. He was impeccable as Prince Charming in every way. And so I had to know more.
Yesterday I got the opportunity to find out a little more. Mark kindly took some time out to chill with me and we had an absolutely delightful chat. Charming is an understatement to describe this young chap.
Just where did he come from? How did he end up in Derry? Where does he eventually hope to end up? I got all the answers I craved and more.
Mark Lamb turned 21 just before Christmas. He hails from Darlington, Co. Durham in England. He is currently in his first year of study at SLP Leeds. SLP Leeds is one of the leading UK training grounds for young artistic performing talent. Mark is studying Professional Musical Theater there. Just hearing him talk about his course of study and the college, showcases the passion that is within the young guy.
"My parents say I was always dancing and singing from a very young age. We had a caravan at a theme park when I was a child and when we holidayed there I was always on the stage! This is all I've ever wanted to do." And it shows. It shows in his very talking about it.
How on earth did he end up in Derry this very December as Prince Charming in the 2016 Pantomime, Cinderella? "In April this year I saw and ad. I applied and then I did an audition. This was my first professional audition. I'm not normally a nervous person but I was very nervous at this audition. Initially I auditioned for the position of a dancer. I ended up as Prince Charming."
During the month of May Mark was working his job then at Sainsburys and got a call to say he was cast as Prince Charming. "It was so overwhelming. I was simply over the moon", he told me. "Then in June I came over for a photoshoot. This was all so new to me. It was crazy. But I loved it all."
Mark said that he knew none of the cast and yet, "everyone was so nice to me from the onset. I felt right at home."
Mark also told me that Pantomime is something he always wanted to do. "Cinderella is the one pantomime I have always wanted to do and this was an amazing opportunity."
So how has Derry welcomed this young Durham chap, and has he had a pleasant experience here in the city we all love so well?
"Everyone has welcomed me. The Derry people have been so lovely. The Panto audiences have been great. The kids have been loud and great. I love loud. I love the kids. There have been days when I was tired, but the Derry crowd and people kept me going."
He adds, "I couldn't have asked for a better first job." This role has indeed been Mark Lambs first professional one. Derry will clearly hold a special place in his heart from here onwards.
"I would love to come back next year, I've enjoyed it so much." He also said that the cast have been so very nice to him, "everyone on the cast have been great. They have all welcomed me and made me feel so at home. William and the others have been brilliant."
So what does the future hold for this aspiring young musical theatrical actor? He doesn't hesitate in his answer. "A West End role. Hopefully I'll get an agent after college and then I'd love to be on the West End stage. My dream role would be to play Tony in 'West Side Story'."
When his dream does come to fruition (which I don't doubt that it will), I hope I get my name on one of those guest lists and have a tissue to hand as I wipe a very proud tear when I watch him perform on that West End stage. It might just be sooner that he thinks. The talent is there. The passion for his work oozes from his every word.
As a blogger and freelance writer, I've had the great privilege of meeting many famous musicians, actors and more, in recent years. I really do think I've made a friend in a potential future star this very month.
Here's wishing you lots of luck with everything you do in the future and fingers crossed we might even see you back on the Derry stage very soon. It really was a pleasure. But for now, it's over to you, Mark Lamb.


HOMEGROWN 2017 at Millennium Forum

Music fans are in for a treat in the New Year as the Millennium Forum hosts Homegrown 2017 on Friday 13th January.

Since 2013, the Homegrown gigs have gone from strength to strength, showcasing the best in local musical talent.   This year’s line-up includes Paul Casey & Band, Ports, Paddy Nash & The Happy Enchiladas and The Henry Girls.
2013 saw Derry city host the UK City of Culture. There were lots of music events throughout that year. The first live event of that year was the first HOMEGROWN and it has been growing ever since.
I spoke with Paul Casey earlier today who is the founder of HOMEGROWN. Paul told me, "I always did a Christmas gig and thought that 2013 would be apt for something different. Alongside the others, I proposed the idea to the forum for a gig of home musicians. They agreed and the rest is history."
"That first gig sold 900 tickets and showed how important the people of Derry and surrounding area feel about local music. Many events that year were free and yet here were the Derry people paying for this. This gig showcased the importance of homegrown music and en-captured the importance of local talent."
Since that year, HOMEGROWN has grown in popularity and continuing to do so now into 2017. "Initially we planned a one-off show and now here we are still performing annually to a home crowd. It's incredible."
Casey adds, "we have another great line up this year as with previous years."

PORTS are a four piece band from Northern Ireland known for performing ‘emotionally literate rock’. They consist of Steven McCool (Bass and Vocals), Mark O'Doherty (Drums), Ryan Griffiths (Guitar) and Conor Mason (Piano). After the release of their first demo ‘I’d Let You Win’, the band received a flood of fantastic reviews including; 'Flavour of the Month' and 'Ones to Watch' from BBC Introducing which resulted in extensive airplay from BBC Radio 1, RTE and countless others. PORTS rose to prominence in Ireland after an exciting performance at 'Other Voices', Derry-Londonderry (when they stepped in to replace Two Door Cinema Club). After their memorable performance, they were asked to return to the Other Voices stage, this time in London’s own Wilton’s Music Hall, joined by Villagers; John Grant; SOAK and Imelda May.
No stranger to the Forum, Paul Casey’s music has also been on the rise with many of his songs used in major TV shows across the pond.
Paddy Nash & The Happy Enchiladas are a 7 piece Folk Rock Country Pop Punk Blues Band from Northern Ireland. They are notorious for their no holds barred rocking live shows full of original songs about life here, there and everywhere. Paddy is often hailed as ‘Ireland’s Springsteen’, a badge he wears with diffidence.  The band released their third album ‘Laughter & Love’ earlier last year to a rapture of praise from critics and fans alike. 
The McLaughlin sisters are from Malin in Inishowen, County Donegal. They formed the band over 10 years ago. They named the band after their grandfather. They released their debut album, Between Us, in 2003, and was produced by Máire Breatnach. They released their album Dawn in 2010, and that year they were nominated for an Irish Film and Television Award for Best Original Score for the film A Shine of Rainbows, which featured songs from the album Dawn.

So just what is it about Paul Casey and the importance of this local talent on his local stage? "I'm a full-time musician and try to bring out a new album every year. I self-finance and I'm really lucky to be still doing this. Bringing my own music and other local talent to the home stage makes me feel privileged. I love what I do and this gig is very important."
Having played in many parts of the world, just where has been most poignant for Casey? Playing the Royal Albert Hall with Chris Rea was memorable. I was both in his band and his support act. That was a privilege."
"But for now, the most important gig is that on Friday 13th January at the Millennium Forum. After that I'm not sure where the next gig will be. The industry is interesting. It can be either a feast or a famine. But for now, the important one is Derry."
Music is very clearly at the heart and soul of what Casey is all about. But just what would he be doing if he wasn't in music? "I love film. Growing up I wanted to be Steven Spielberg! Recently I've had the pleasure of working with local film director Keith O'Grady. I've put music to two of his short films. One of these showed at Brunswick movie-bowl just a few weeks ago. This was a massive buzz for me. Hearing my music throughout the film was great."
I'm sure many like myself, hope Casey continues doing what he does for many years to come. Speilberg can stay in LA, but Casey continually returns to his hometown of Derry. That'll do for us!

HOMEGROWN is on at Millennium Forum Derry, on Friday 13th January and tickets can be purchased from the Box Office on 02871264455 or online at Millennium Forum


Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Family time at The Red Door, Fahan

The North West has an array of restaurants and coffee shops at the present time. Here in Inishowen we are never lost for a culinary treat, be it an extravagant lunch, a light snack, or just a nice coffee. So there were a few choices to decide from recently as myself and siblings were deciding on a place for our  familial occasion.
The Red Door in Fahan was settled upon and reserved for the night in question. Last night was the night, and we were certainly not disappointed with the welcome we received at this premises.
From the onset we were treated like royalty. Mother and Father had not eaten here before and my siblings likewise, so it was a delight to be able to introduce all to this little culinary haven on our doorstep.
On arrival the evening sun had set, and darkness was upon us. The delightful Christmas decor outdoor was very welcoming. The decor and more inside was equally welcoming.
As we made our way to the sitting area beside the bar, everyone was taking in their surroundings of the quaint and yet elaborate setting. Photos were taken and smiles were getting tiresome as we were then shown to our table in the Violet room restaurant area. As we were a large party, there was ample room and our waiting hosts introduced themselves and immediately began showing menus, taking drinks orders etc.
A delightful meal was had and service was excellent. All agreed that the food combined with the character of the building added to our special evening.
Prior to departure we again returned to the sitting area at the bar and proceeded to take more photos to enable memories to be built.
The Red Door met all our expectations and more. Menu's provided an excellent choice of food, and service was superb from arrival until departure.
Mind you I do think the Knickerbocker glories stole the night for a select few gentlemen.
All agreed that a return visit shall be had and I'm certain it won't be too long until that visit is indeed had. Now to just get those siblings home again soon.


Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Christmas Eve, by Jason Lynch

The following story is one written by Jason Lynch, from Muff, who attends The WRITE STUFF Kids Club at Muff, Co. Donegal. Jason used a spare five minutes on his last session with the prompt, 'On Christmas Eve'. His result is a lovely Christmas Eve story.

On Christmas Eve, at 10 o'clock, me and my brother went to bed. We talked for a while and then we fell asleep. When the twelve bells rang I woke up and heard something on the roof. I didn't know what it was, so I got out of my bed and put on my shoes. I went outside. I looked up at the roof and I saw a sleigh with twelve reindeer. But Santa wasn't in the sleigh.
I decided to go into the house, and there in front of me was Santa. He was wearing a red suit and big black boots. He said 'Merry Christmas' and then he disappeared.
I couldn't believe my eyes. I ran over to the door and I heard jingle bells and Santa's sleigh flew over my house and away they went.
That was the best Christmas Eve ever!

The End

(story by Jason Lynch)


Saturday, 17 December 2016

The Great Glass Slipper Hunt, Derry

The Great Glass Slipper Hunt is under way!

Do you fancy winning tickets to see the biggest show of the season? When you’re out doing your Christmas shopping this weekend, keep an eye out for some shoes. . . not any shoes, BUT Cinderella’s shoes.
The Millennium Forum has secretly placed six small ‘glass slippers’ in various locations around the city.   Each slipper found and returned to the Box Office will guarantee the finder a Family Pass (4 seats) to see the pantomime, Cinderella at the 7pm performance on Wed 28th December.

The slippers will be hidden at random locations around the city and clues will be posted each day on the Forum’s Facebook/Twitter pages. 

Well?  What are you waiting for?  Get looking before the clock strikes midnight! 

Prince Charming awaits.......


Thursday, 15 December 2016

A Christmas Story by Anna O'Donnell (age 9)

The following is a short story written earlier tonight by a young student of mine. As facilitator of Children's Creative Writing and Confidence building workshops with The WRITE STUFF Kids Club, I continually encourage children to express themselves and their creativity in language and words. Earlier tonight I had a workshop with my children at Tullyarvan Mill in Buncrana, Co. Donegal. The children were preparing little wording pieces for their parents for Christmas. One little girl had her work finished so I asked her to write a little story. Her prompt was...On Christmas Eve. The following is her story:

On Christmas Eve I was getting into bed. I was soooo excited for Christmas. Then I fell asleep.
I woke up at 2.10am and standing there was SANTA! He was putting some stuff in my room. I pretended I was asleep but he just said: "HO HO HO! I know that you are awake Anna. So then I just sat up and said, "are you actually Santa?" "Yes I am". "Did you come from the real North Pole?" "Yes, and I'll take you there myself". "Really?" I said. "Oh yes" he said.
When I got there an elf gave me a free present. I said, "I can't wait to open it tomorrow." Then I woke up. It was just a dream.
When I went downstairs I saw the present the elf had gave me. I opened it and it was a picture of me and Santa. This is the best present ever! I put it in my room and I treasured it forever.
The End.
Anna O'Donnell age 9


Derry's Fairy Godmother!

The Pantomime Cinderella is well and truly underway at Derry's Millennium Forum this festive season and its' Magical Fairy Godmother took time out of her busy schedule to talk to this North West Culture Gal yesterday. Orla Mullan is once again back on the Derry stage and is really making her mark alongside her magic wand and kind heart.
Orla told me, "This is my fifth panto in Derry and it's the best yet." The current show is exceeding all records in the history of the Derry pantomime and Mullan is certainly adding her magic touch to the stage.
"Of all the fairies to play, this is the best. Cinderella's Fairy Godmother is the most iconic of fairytale fairies and she really is like a Guardian Angel." This is certainly true and this fairy/angel takes care of our beloved Cinders throughout the story. She shows us that one doesn't need a prince to be happy and that loving yourself is the most important part of being true to yourself. Orla said, "she teaches you to look to the inside and believe in yourself. It's a rags to riches story but it also emphasies that riches don't really matter. Doing your own thing is what counts." What a truly wonderful message this is conveying to our young folk.
Orla was in Sweden last Christmas doing a Christmas show and is delighted to be back in Derry this year. "I love Christmas and it would be strange not to do a Christmas show. It's nice to get home at this time of year and this is a lovely way to end the working year."
Orla is of course working on stage with her partner Keith. One of the Ugly Sisters, Keith is more concerned with his make-up now at home than Orla is. "He's more into his make-up than any woman is", said Orla. "He never switches off. He's even doing his nail polish in the house." Somehow I can believe this having met the same man just last week. Or should I say, lady!!
So just how special is it to play this role of Fairy Godmother? "It's iconic. When the carriage and pony arrive on stage, it's just the most magical part of the show."
I couldn't but help asking Orla about Prince Charming, Mark Lamb. This being his first role, and his being exceptional in it, I was keen to hear the professional that is Orla Mullan's opinion of him. "Mark is just such a lovely young man. He is so hard working and a very special talent. His voice is stunning and he just blends with Cinderella. He is part of a great cast and he feels the warmth of that cast. It's coincidental that the first director I worked with is now also working with Mark. He's just a talented and very special person." Well I got my take on this young man right when I both met him and saw him perform last week. Simply stunning on the Derry stage he really is.
So what are Orla Mullan's plans for Christmas and New Year? "I'm spending Christmas at home with my parents then Keith and I are off to New York in January. I'm looking forward to showing Keith the sites and the city I love so much."
I only hope New York is ready for this Ugly Sister. I'm really not sure that even Broadway, or the Bronx will be able to handle that much dress and make up. Time will tell!!
Whether you're a little girl, or a mature adult (with a child's heart like myself) you can't help but love this Fairy Godmother and really wish she was yours. Orla Mullan wins the heart of the entire audience during this years pantomime and no doubt will continue to do so for many years to come.
Do treat you and your family this Christmas with the Derry Pantomime, Cinderella. It runs at Derry's Millennium Fourm until December 31st. You really won't regret it. It's magical in every way possible. And you never know, your wish might just come true!


Thursday, 8 December 2016

Cinderella - a truly Magical experience this Christmas

It's Christmas season once more and of course that can only mean one thing here in Derry. PANTO time again. It's the sixteenth annual Christmas panto at  the Millennium Forum, Derry and is continuing the Forum's tradition of producing outstanding quality and indeed value-for-money entertainment for everyone at this festive season. William Caulfied (Buttons) told me when I caught up with the cast last Tuesday that, "Pantomime is a child's first experience of theater and if they enjoy it, they come back." After tonight's performance there will be quite a few children returning to theater.
Pantomime is a show filled with acting, music, jokes, innuendo, slapstick comedy, colour and more. But there was something different (or maybe just extra) about this year's Derry pantomime. It's a fairy-tale and it's one of the most timeless of tales at that. Perhaps it's because we all like to see good win in the end, but this show showcased so much tonight.
'Once upon a time' started the show. In reality all our lives begin as 'Once upon a time'. Orla Mullan as always excelled in her role, and this year the Fairy Godmother warmed everyone's heart, both young and old. She really did explore the lesson of 'beauty being on the inside', and reinforced the message throughout the night that, 'You are special'. Her role was one which allowed everyone in the theater to feel good about oneself and take that message home.
As always William Caulfield won the heart of every child, man and woman. Buttons gained our sympathy and our love. This man owns any stage he is upon and this year's pantomime was his stage yet again. You can't help but love him.
James Lecky and Keith Lynch were the terrible twosome...the ugly sisters...Kim and Kourtney Hardup (distant relations of the Kardashans!) We all loved to hate them, but a little piece of us all secretly loved them. The guys told me on Tuesday last how much they love doing the Derry panto. They both admitted that they "love coming back to do the panto and the Derry audience always welcomes us home." There were a few tonight who wanted to send them packing at times!! They also told me of the importance of Panto in Derry. "It's a tradition and a real family occasion." To say
they were colourful would be such an understatement. They rocked!
Chamberlain, Conor O'Kane, was brilliant in his performance tonight. I felt his pain when being attacked by those uglies. Chris Grant equally so as Baron Hardup.
Kathryn Rutherford was a stunning Cinderella, and won all our hearts from the beginning. Her voice, like her fellow actors, blew us all away throughout the performance tonight. Cinders really did go to the ball, and deservedly so. Kathryn told me during the week that, "Cinderella is a magical fairy-tale and there's a nice message behind it: Beauty is on the inside." What a truly wonderful sentiment.
But tonight wasn't just about the acting for me. I was totally blown away by the music which really brought this fairy-tale into the 21st century. Green Day, Cold Play and Dirty Dancing had my feet tapping and my toneless voice, singing. God love the folk sitting around me. I didn't care. The music lyrics were so apt and I was transported to another world!
But still this fairy tale had more. We all know the story of Cinderella, but sometimes forget the morals incorporated within. I brought home a reminder tonight to always 'believe in myself' and that 'beauty really is within'. It's never what's on the outside that counts, it's what's within. Also, a lesson I continually teach my children is the importance of friendship. Buttons shows us how it can hurt at times, but also that it's important to have a friend, and also to be one. And of course, Good always does win in the end. Cinderella really did win her Prince.
And as for that Prince Charming, Mark Lamb, what can I say? I have to admit, he stole the show for me tonight. I spoke with Mark on Tuesday and discovered that he is a young man in his first year at drama college. He told me, "It's an amazing experience for me." This role is his first professional one. I really can't imagine the talent he will be on completion of college. At just 20 years of age (soon to be 21) he really is a talent in the making. His acting, his very presence on stage, and his outstanding voice, was the highlight of my night. Mark
you are a treasure, a real gem.
Tonight I had the pleasure of bringing my friend Louise and her two children with me to see the Panto. Colm (12) and Eleanor (8) both loved it, and agreed that it was truly magical. As for their mother, Louise came home with sore hands and a sore throat!
And I finally got to take part in a Mannequin challenge! How cool was that?
The stage setting tonight was simply awesome. From the kitchen, to the palace, the forest to the snow clad ground, we really could have been in London's West End or indeed Broadway. Outstanding in every way.
Huge acclaim also to the General Ensemble and the Rainbow School of Dance Junior Chorus. You all nailed it at every turn.
If it's one treat you give your family this Christmas, do make it the Derry Pantomime, Cinderella. It runs at Derry's Millennium Fourm until December 31st. You really won't regret it. It's magical in every way possible and Cinders really does go to the Ball.


Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Derry Panto is bigger and better than ever!

“Oh no it isn’t!” It really is that time of year again where across the country the Pantomime is alive and entertaining as ever. Having opened just last weekend in Derry, it is the time of year when young and old come together and enjoy what must surely be one of the greatest pantomimes in the country. In recent years the panto really has become a festive highlight for families here in Derry.
The now infamous Derry pantomime is set to break all records this year. Having played to almost 30,000 people last year, the Millennium Forum announced earlier today that, ‘tickets for this years show have already been sweeped up by 25,000 panto fans keen to get into the Christmas spirit.’ 2016 is soaring and it’s still only in its early days of the first week.  

Since opening on Friday 2nd December, thousands of children of all ages have screamed, booed, hissed, sang and cheered along to the latest festive offering from the cityside theatre. Schools from as far away as Enniskillen, Arranmore Island, Newry, Co.Donegal, Ardara, Glenties, Gortahork, Irvinestown, Omagh, Dungiven and Ballycastle have also made the journey to the city for the annual Christmas show. 

It really is time to step into Christmas and have a truly magical family experience at the Millennium Forum with the ultimate rags-to-riches tale of Cinderella. Will Cinderella win her Prince?  Will the glass slipper fit?  You’ll have to wait until after the clock strikes midnight to find out!

Packed with great song and dance routines, hilarious comedy, dazzling scenes, sumptuous sets and magical special effects, Cinderella is fun for all the family from 4-94!

This year’s Derry panto is featuring a star studded local and Northern Irish cast including the return of William Caulfield as ‘Buttons’, Mark Lamb as ‘Prince Charming’, Kathryn Rutherford as ‘Cinderella’, Orla Mullan as the ‘Fairy Godmother’ and Keith Lynch and James Lecky as the ‘Ugly Sisters’. This glittering Christmas treat is already destined to be a hit with audiences far and wide.

But just what makes the Derry pantomime so special? Just why do the crowds flock to the Millennium Forum year in year out? I caught up with leading actors, William Caulfield (aka Buttons), James Lecky and Keith Lynch (Ugly sisters), Mark Lamb (Prince Charming) and Kathryn Rutherford (Cinderella) earlier today to find out.
Caulfied now in his 11th consecutive year as leading role in the Derry panto tells me: “Derry people are very much into the arts. The rest of Northern Ireland looked to Derry most especially in the dark days, for their theatre and entertainment. Derry always had entertainment and Derry always welcomed entertainment.” Caulfield went on to say, “Pantomime is the first introduction to theater for children. They fall in love and they return. Derry welcomes this and it shows.”
Keith Lynch and James Lecky told me: “It’s a tradition in Derry. It’s a family experience at Christmas and it’s magical. For us, it’s a home-coming.”
Kathryn Rutherford agrees that panto is indeed, “something for the whole family to enjoy. It’s magic and it appeals to all.” Mark Lamb, who is experiencing his first professional role as Prince Charming here in the Derry panto says, “this is an amazing experience for me. I’m having the best time. I’m also going to experience my 21st birthday here in Derry next week so it’s special in many ways.”
Derry is certainly alive with panto fever at present and is set to brighten further as the weeks leading up to Christmas and after, come upon us. The Derry stage really is magical at this time of year and Christmas really wouldn’t be Christmas in Derry without an annual visit to the panto.

Cinderella runs at the Millennium Forum, Derry, from Friday 2nd December until Saturday 31st December. Tickets are now available from the Box Office. Telephone 71 264455 or visit for bookings.  

Book your tickets now and you shall go to the ball!