Friday, December 11, 2015

Horseplay, dance, music & comedy as Pony Panto gallops on stage at The MAC (until 19 Dec)

Pony Panto is legendary. A high energy music and dance sketch show, with comedic Christmas trimmings, lashings of kitsch and a loyal audience who squeeze in to catch its annual outing.

For some in the MAC last night it was a massive ‘in joke’, recognising on stage characters from other performances and venues in Belfast. For others it was a chance to see their friends on stage freed from the constraint of a script. And this year with an extended run and huge demand for tickets, it was also full of brave newbies who scurried into the back seats in case what they’d heard about the front row was true.

Leonie Pony compères commères the evening, well able to handle the banter of the cast and those in the stalls. With more costume changes than a Eurovision Song Contest presenter, the Sara Lund-inspired Christmas jumper dress with a dreadful polo neck deserves special mention.

The stage is awash with characters including a juggling barman, a queen and Ireland’s pop-sensation Sinnead who has everyone singing along. House band Donal and the Drainpipes croon merrily accompany everything from their platform on the side of the upstairs MAC stage. The evening’s unwitting VIP is plucked from obscurity and positioned in a seat much closer to the action.

After the interval, Katie Richardson’s Hail Mary rap – “you wouldn’t have Christmas if it wasn’t for me” – ramps up the energy with a provocative yet reverent retelling of the Christmas story from the perspective of the young girl at its centre.

Pony Panto doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet it’s never slapdash. The Ponies throw themselves at routines with gusto and talent. The glum and apathetic mixed cheerleading squad are all the more funny with their sullen faces and lacklustre delivery of the routine. Finn’s ability to effortlessly shimmy high up a pole to scatter glitter over the acts below is only bettered by his breath-taking descents.

There’s attention to detail: the regal powder blue dress could well feature at 3pm on Christmas Day. The merchandise on sale afterwards was popular and captures the spirit of the prance dance company. The snowflake Nutcracker ballet scene is beautiful and inventive (even after the Ponies mess with it).

With a nine o’clock start in Cathedral Quarter, some of the Pony Panto audience had lost their inhibitions and there was affable heckling even before Leonie had pulled back the curtain to reveal this year’s stripped back extravaganza.

The show finishes with a number that lifts the audience up onto their feet even if it’ll take a Stewards Enquiry to decide whether the man in the second row managed to string together the right moves in the right order.

Going by its reputation, I expected I might raise an eyebrow at the content. Instead I found Pony Panto to be light and full of laughs, music, dance and a smattering of not too anxious audience participation. It’s obvious that the performers are enjoying the raucous show.

Pony Panto is new Belfast letting its hair down and having a good time. The challenge for the tracksuited Ponies will be to keep it niche and not go too mainstream.

If you gee up and race to the (online) box office before the remaining tickets sell out, you can catch Pony Panto at the MAC until 19 December.

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