Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Elves and the Shoemaker – a festive allegory for Cathedral Quarter (Cahoots NI/The MAC until 6 January)

It’s as if Stephen Beggs and Simon Magill had adapted the Brothers Grimm tale of The Elves and the Shoemaker to write a festive allegory for the rampant property development planned a stone’s throw away from The MAC.

While the timing is a total coincidence, the opening night of a show about a greedy tycoon who wants to flatten a multi-generational family shoemaker’s shop to build a tall tower comes exactly 24 hours after Castlebrooke Investments’ Royal Exchange development underwent its Windscale moment and was relaunched as Tribeca Belfast.

Lady in red, Miss Perkins, pulls no pecuniary punches in undermining the shop’s liquidity, forcing Stan and Bet Wellington to default on its rent and pack their bags. But the nocturnal elves have other plans, and try to reverse the hard working pair’s fortune through magical, and sometimes mystical, spells.

On top of his smart lyrics and melodies, Garth McConaghie’s multifarious soundscape lurks beneath every scene setting the mood along with James McFetridge’s precise lighting design. Diana Ennis has created a shop set with enough cupboards and trapdoors to allow an army of elves to slip in and out unnoticed. Director Paul Bosco Mc Eneaney trademark magic tricks work best when they casually drop without fanfare into the action.

What a lovely pair Sean Kearns and Clare Barrett make as Stan and Bet, the warm and homely couple who live above their shoemaking shop floor. Emer McDaid is magnificent as the snide and superior Miss Perkins, and brings Jennifer Rooney’s magic shoe choreography to life in a brilliant body-twisting, perspective-giving way that delights the audience in the show’s final scenes.

The elves – Jolene O’Hara (last year’s Waterfront Sleeping Beauty), Aisling Groves McKeown (last seen snaffling biscuits in Date Show: After Dark) and Fiona Carty (last on The MAC’s stage as Olive in Bruiser’s Spelling Bee) – work well together and slip into other characters and accents with as much ease as they handle the magical tricks and their dancing fairy lights.

The script isn’t crammed full of jokes, but the story rattles along with a consistent pace and like a comfortable pair of shoes gets the cast and the audience to the show’s conclusion without any trips or blisters. An ensemble of six Bangor SERC students bulk up the main cast in some of the musical numbers which are confidently executed.

The storyline holds tight to the ideal of selflessly overlooking your own misery and generously empowering other people to be free, as well deflating the menace of those whose power is driven by greed and meanness, a trick that may be harder in real life than on stage.

The MAC together with Cahoots NI have created a piece of family-friendly festive theatre, rooted in the issues that surround the venue. An hour and 50 minutes of sparkle, song and story. The Elves and the Shoemaker runs in The MAC until Sunday 6 January.

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