Grand Opera House, Belfast – until 5 December 2017
Guest reviewer: Damien Murray
With over 70,000 tickets having been sold even before press night, Peter Pan is already set to become one of Belfast’s most successful pantomimes yet. Staged amid visually attractive cut-out sets that transported the audience to a world of wonder in such locations as The Darlings’ nursery, Neverland, Crocodile Creek, on board a pirate ship and beneath the sea, this production had a lot to offer with a talking bra, some super soakers, a giant gorilla and jokes about a mermaid’s shell phone all proving popular with the young audience.
Boasting production values as high as its flying sequences, this impressive show was spectacular with its pyrotechnics and special effects such as a colossal crocodile that moved right out over the front seats of the stalls in the Act 1 finale and a scary 3D underwater journey on film (but, be warned, it is, perhaps, a tad too scary for smaller children as I learned from this, my grandchildren’s first pantomime visit).
With super sets, costumes, dance routines and lighting, this production had cross-generational appeal with the double entendres, political jibes and topical references keeping the adults happy, while the silly one-liners and slapstick comedy made the children laugh loudly throughout.
Celebrating 28 consecutive years as the pantomime dame at Belfast’s Grand Opera House, May McFettridge (aka John Linehan) again proved that he truly is the ‘Grande Dame’ of the local pantomime stage.
This year, playing May Smee, this seasoned dame appeared to go into auto-pilot mode each time he took to the stage as his quick-fire one-liners and audience put-downs now come as natural to him as wearing female clothing each December… they are both part and parcel of his annual residency at the prestigious theatre.
Aided by a strong support cast, his partner in crime was again local actor and regular pantomime performer, Paddy Jenkins (as Smee), who, despite his laid-back approach, always delivered with perfect timing in the comedy routines, while television soap star, Claire King, kept telly fans happy as Mimi the Magical Mermaid.
One of the stars of this production was Britain’s Got Talent impressionist, Paul Burling (as the ship’s entertainer, Starkey), who made a good impression on everyone (in more ways than one) with a wide range of voice impersonations of such famous and celebrated characters as Michael McIntyre, Harry Hill, Alan Carr, Popeye, Top Cat and The Simpsons.
However, the brightest star of this show was the multi award-winning, David Bedella, who’s demanding stage presence, precise diction and perfection of performance was such that he could play such a believable ‘baddie’ as Captain Hook, yet remain such an extremely lovable rogue to those who can appreciate his theatrical talents and skills.
All were joined by Mikey Jay-Heath as a flying Peter Pan, Hollie O’Donoghue as the rude, roller-skating Tinkerbell, Natalie Windsor as a commanding Tiger Lily and Kweeva Garvey as a likeable and popular Wendy, while talented young performers from the McMaster Stage School comprised the children’s ensemble with an amazingly good break dance from one tiny little boy.
From reworded and reworked pop songs like Ed Sheeran’s Shape Of You to show tunes like Cell Block Tango from Chicago and popular favourites like Blondie’s One Way Or Another, The Village Peoples’ In The Navy and Frank Sinatra’s My Way, the music was well-varied to suit all and, under Mark Dougherty’s musical direction, had a surprisingly big sound for such a small band.
It may be the festive season, but Christmas songs were, wisely, restricted here to a comic rendition of The Twelve Days Of Christmas (I say ‘wisely’ as I always think it must sound odd for audiences in the latter stages of a pantomime run to be singing about Christmas in a show that continues well into January).
On their first ever visit to a Grand Opera House pantomime, my grandchildren really enjoyed the experience… and there is no better test to prove that this big production is another big hit from the Grand Opera House!