Appropriate enough that Michael McHugh once worked in a veneer factory. For as anyone who has seen him perform on stage will know he boasts not just the comical timing but the finish of a professional.
Last night, he left them laughing again in his role as ‘Starboard’ in the latest Ramelton Pantomime production of Robinson Crusoe which runs for two weeks and ensures a fortnight of fun and frenzy for those who will undoubtedly pack into the local Town Hall for this annual treat.
The Pantomime has been running since 1956 and Mickey himself somewhat longer though he’s reluctant to reveal just how long. He wasn’t involved in the initial years of the pantomime and indeed, like some who were, spent time in Frankfurt training up for employment in a German owned veneer factory which was due to open in Milford. Around 70 locals in all journeyed to Germany and returned eventually to secure much needed work in the newly established plant.
When Micheal, or Mickey as he is popularily known, did take his first bow in the Ramelton panto in the sixties it was under the guise of the late Frank Mooney, father of Altan’s Mairead. He can’t recall the name of that first production but it was enough to convince him that here was a pursuit he could enjoy.
Personal reasons persuaded him to withdraw from the local pantomime season for a few years at the end of the eighties and the beginning of the nineties but the call of the stage drew him back again and while he’s unsure on just how many productions he has been involved in, it has been a yearly voyage into the frivolity and frolics that only such shows can bring.
This year, Mickey partners Dermot Mills in their roles as ‘Starboard’ and ‘Port’ respectively, two sailors who help raise the rigging on much of the show’s comic interchanges.
“They’re all a pleasure to work with,” says Mickey of his fellow cast and crew members. “It’s been the same over the years - you couldn’t meet a better bunch of people and I’ve loved every minute of it.”
He is also quick to heap credit on the trio of producers/directors who are lending their expertise to the latest Ramelton offering, including Tony Boyce, Jean Winston and Patsy Boyce. “There’s always great craic at the rehearsals but it also involves hard work and a good guiding hand and they make sure that’s the case.”
Ramelton and its hinterlands know Michael McHugh for much more than just his annual treading of the boards during the panto season. He has entertained audiences with his stand-up comedy shows and over the decades has featured in concerts and won awards for his roles in the Tops of the Town competitions among other shows.
He has no particular favourite joke or story but in one respect takes his comedy routine seriously. “There’s no smutty material - I always keep it clean,” he insists, a welcome positive for parents who want to bring their children along.
Later this year he hopes to release his first ever C.D. - consisting of a series of jokes and anecdotes and a few funny monologues along the way. “I’m working on the material at the moment and hope to have it out in May.”
Meanwhile, the focus is on the current staging of Robinson Crusoe and his own contribution from the ‘Starboard’ side.
“We’ve had good faithful fans over the years and this year’s show gives them a chance to put the recession behind them for a while at least.”
The veneer factory in Milford is gone - the site now occupied by a nursing home - and after 28 years working in the former Unifi plant at Kiltoy in Letterkenny. Michael’s working days are also behind him.
But there’s no sign of retirement yet for Ramelton’s Mr. Funny Man from the pleasurable job of making people laugh and we’re all the better for it.