By Conor O’Neill
It’s that time of year again folks: Belfast’s streets are choc-a-bloc, people are hurrying for yet another long wait in a queue, and Belfast’s Grand Opera House is buzzing. Kids are smiling from ear to ear and the adults all have their fingers crossed May McFettridge doesn’t pick them out for scathing torture.
Yep, it’s panto season and this year the GOH in collaboration with Dale Farm and Crossroads Productions are delivering the timeless classic, Cinderella.
*above, Conor Headley as Prince Charming and Kia-Paris Walcott as Cinderella*
MCFettride is of course the Fairy Godmother and after welcoming all the boys and girls along for the show gets tore into some unlucky fella sitting in the front row, ‘What’s your name?’ ‘Bruno.’, You’re having me on, I’ll just call you Frank, by the way who parted your hair? Moses?’ And unfortunately for Bruno his night has only just begun. Others’ torment follows as the panto progresses.
No need to recap on the story, we’ve all been read the book, read it to our kids, or at least watched the movie. The night is all about entertaining the little ones, and McFettridge having as many digs at their parents, thus entertaining the whole 1000 strong audience.
Of course, what would a Opera House Christmas panto be without McFettridge’s right-hand man. This year Paddy Jenkins is playing Baron Hardup – father of the two ugly sisters Vindicta (Jo Donnelly) and Manipulata (Jolene O’Hara) and Cinderell.
Scottish born writer, Alan McHugh, brings the Cinderella story to hilarious life with jokes for both the kids and adults. I’m often left wondering, especially when McFettridge graces the stage where the script ends and the adlib begins. Regardless of what written or not, the lively slap-stick comedy and clever wordsmith is guaranteed to entertain those from six to 90. And that’s one of the great things about the annual outing to the Opera House, whatever the panto, everyone leaves with a smile on their face. Director and choreographer, Jonny Bowles has the seven strong cast and the eight members of the ensemble playing their roles with the professionalism you’d expect from a gathering of talents whose CVs are too expansive to name.
One of the kids’ favourites is Prince Charming’s footman – yes, they do get a podiatrist gag out of this – Dandini (Gyasi Sheppy) of Cbeebies fame and a local lad to boot hailing from Lisburn. Apart from May, Baron Hardup and the ugly sisters, more and continuous comedy comes from Button (Adam C Booth) who just so happens to be in love with Cinderella whose eyes are firmly fixated on the prince.
What would a panto be without some big tunes? Luckily there’s a six-piece band sitting in the pit. Under the direction of Philip Shute they knock out big numbers like Brian Adams Everything I Do to and adulterated version of ABBA’s Gimme Gimme ‘a prince after midnight’ as sung by the two ugly ones and The Spice Girls’ Wannabe. On the more serious numbers, Headley, Walcott and Booth prove they’re more than just pretty faces playing panto by numbers with their fantastic vocals.
Apart from McFettridge and company’s larking about there is a well told story here. One that presumably even the youngest in the crowd will understand. And if they don’t quite follow the gist there are enough special effects, physical comedy and easily recognisable baddies for them to get into the spirit of things.
No spoilers coming from me, but the ending of the first act is as spectacular as it is unforgettable.
In at 7pm, out at just past 9. Perfect timing as some of the littler ones were getting tired. The twelve Days of Christmas sketch is hilarious and May McFettridge’s closing words prove why she’s been a hit in the Grand Opera House for over 30 years.
Cinderella runs at the Grand Opera House up to and including Sunday, January 15th, 2023.
For booking details and times visit http://www.goh.co.uk or simply phone the box office on 02890 241919