Pantomime is a strange animal, quite different to a Christmas show or a carol service and you need a big space and a big cast to succeed. Every year the Opera House in Belfast pulls it out of the bag and gives its audience the chance to laugh and cry, scream and shout and this year to boo the bad fairy Carabosse and gasp in wonder at Aurora, The Enchantress.
On Tuesday evening many of the children in the audience were very young and had to sit on booster seats to get a good view and once they settled they were hooked. Booms of the big drums then fireworks and flames and we were off. Aurora (Hilary O’Neil) and Carabosse (Lorraine Chase) took over the stage to tell us that Princess Beautiful’s birthday was coming up, a chance for wicked Carabosse to fulfill her promise that Beauty would prick her finger on her 16th birthday and – gasp, horror – die!
But Aurora wasn’t having any of that, she had a more powerful spell. She made sure that the girl would not die but would fall into a deep sleep for 100 years and awaken only when kissed by the man who truly loves her. Bless!
So the scene was set with great expectations.
The audience came alive when Queen May (May McFettridge) arrived astride a chariot pulled by two leather clad muscly men. When the applause died down and she’d greeted her followers in her usual cheeky way – “Where you from handsome?” “Cambridge.” “Welcome to the mainland.” – there was more banter when her husband King Humphrey (Paddy Jenkins) joined her followed by Muddles (Matt Edwards) an accomplished entertainer, a ventriloquist and balloon modeler with a great Norman Wisdom walk and children and their parents just loved him. He did one awesome trick with a long orange balloon – pointing out that no one should try this at home – as he appeared to swallow it, pushing it down his throat until it disappeared. I imagine he was letting the air out of it inside his mouth although I didn’t see him take the balloon out of his mouth afterwards. Was I totally fooled? Was it not actually in his mouth at all? Clever but not a good example to children.
Princess Beauty (Rhiannon Chesterman) was indeed beautiful and Prince Daniel (Aaron Hayes Rogers) a very handsome prince but I liked Slimeball (Ciaran Nolan), he was suitably misshapen and unpleasant, until the interval after which he mysteriously lost his hump and stood tall and agile and was henceforth known as Slimball! Good thing because one of the funniest, fast and furious routines was the old chestnut, the Twelve Days of Christmas where Queen May, her husband, Muggles and Slimball, had to pick up and put down twelve items, from the fairy on the top of the tree, to two Belfast baps, three MLAS ect. etc.
A real squeal when Muggles let go of the five toilet rolls as he was swinging them round and they ended up in the audience, expertly caught and expertly thrown back – I wonder!
All the ingredients were there and most of them worked. The spectacular moment really worked, it came when Muggles mounted a huge motor bike and flew high in the air above the stage and then to our delight, out into the auditorium over our heads, the engine throbbing and the bright headlight searching for the Princess. Magic.
In true tradition we were left with a smile on our faces when the whole stage was used for the wedding of the prince and princess; the scene shimmered in turquoise and blue, silver and gold with the delightful children from the McMaster Stage School taking a well deserved bow.
No long curtain speech this year, just May pointing out that a lot of people are involved in putting on such a show, in front and behind the footlights and in the orchestra pit and we applauded them all for a great night’s entertainment.
Review by ANNE HAILES
Check all Anne Hailes Belfast Times reviews here.
Grand Opera House
Until Sunday 19th January 2014.