Jack and the Beanstalk, Grand Opera house, Belfast, December 5
By Conor O’Neill
I’ll not lie, and there’s no smoker like a reformed smoker; coughing fifty yards as s/he approaches someone inhaling. But before May McFettridge, aka Dame May Trot, opened her mouth at tonight’s showing of The Grand Opera House’s Jack and the Beanstalk, I held her with an indifference opting towards annoyance.
Well, dip me in the River Jordan and call me saved. McFettridge’s one-liners, knowing looks and energy had kids from 8-years-old to those on Zimmer-frames eating from the palms of her hand. A huge camera dwarfed by an even bigger tele screen with house lights up pick on the unfortunates. How much of this is scripted is hard to tell. “Oh, you’re from the Lisburn Road, – puts on an uppity voice – some lovely houses up there. You live near any of them?” Another, again with the whole 1040 watching puts her head down as the camera beams on her: “Too late now, love. No sense putting yer head down now. Betcha wished you’d done your roots before coming here tonight?” Another viewer says he’s from Warrenpoint: “Car full of red diesel then!”
And yes, there is a plot. A well-worn furrow in pantoland. The Giant up in Cloudland is hungry. For human flesh, that is, if not that, then the rent is going up. The Trots, May, Paddy (Paddy Jenkins) and Jack Trot (Michael Pickering) are tormented by the giant’s right-hand-man, Fleshcreep (David Bedella) who the kids live to boo. “I’m in Belfast now, so I simply must love my booze.”
Arguably the most loved by all – apart from McFettridge – is Simon (Rikki Jay). Each time he comes on we’re instructed to shout and scream ‘Wacca, wacca, Simon’. The reason behind this is not explained, not that it matters, it was simple unadulterated fun. Mother Earth (Joanna O’Hare) the Trot’s guardian angel pops in and out of the script when needed and adds a lovely bit of class, well, who wouldn’t with May Trot as a comparison. Georgia Lennon plays Princess Apricot is the apple of Jack’s eye. Will he get her?
For reasons only the producers and writer Alan McHugh must be privy to, The Belfast Roller Rollers (Armando Ferriandino and Giovanna Manuel Mar) are wheeled out and perform some heart-stopping moves before the interval. Their antics and talents can only be admired, kids do not try this at home – but it has little to do with the plot.
Bangor’s McMaster Stage School pupils provides willing, if unrecognisable farmyard animals as Fleshcreep collects his taxes.
When Bella, the Trot’s family favourite cow is swindled for… yes you’ve guessed it, beans, something simply has to be done. But how to get May’s considerable frame up so high. No spoilers here, but the extravagance and ensuing insurance fees were worth every penny.
A 20 minute interval sees the normally thriving bar barely scraping a living; the sweet counter on the other hand will have dentists all over the land driving spanking new Range Rovers all the way to the bank.
After the triumph of the first half, the second has a lot to live up to. Even the kids know the story. More stomach wrenching laughs as all sorts of sorts goes the Trots’ way.
The Grand Opera’s House Orchestra, headed by Mark Dougherty with another four musos in the pit never put a note of finger wrong. The set design and changes are jaw dropping; the costumes by JoJo Lewis are fantastical.
Hats off to director/choreographer, Andrew Wright for keeping the simmering almost active volcanic mayhem just at bay.
If, and there are so many to highlight, one scene has to be singled out for writing and acting brilliance, it has to be the ‘Sushi scene’. Word play at its finest.
Intrigued? To book your tickets phone the Grand Opera House box office on 02890241919 or visit http://www.goh.co.uk
Jack and the Beanstalk runs until and including Sunday, January 12