Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Cinderella – flying to the ball in a horse-drawn carriage (Grand Opera House until Sunday 15 January)

The opening minutes of this year’s pantomime see the fairy godmother (May McFettridge) make a daring entrance onto the Grand Opera House stage, establish the fine singing voices of Prince Charming and his buddy/servant Dandini (Conor Headley and Lisburn’s Gyasi Sheppy), and hear from Cinderella (Kia-Paris Walcott) about living the Belfast dream, before her stepsisters (Jo Donnelly and Jolene O’Hara) appear carrying giant Primark bags, we meet Cinderella’s father Baron Hardup (Paddy Jenkins) who’s been experiencing a cost of living crisis for quite some time, and Buttons (Adam C Booth playing a cross between Elvis the Pelvis and Cliff Richard) inducts the audience into his gang.

Before long, polar bears will dance, a coach and magic horses will fly Cinderella to a ball, Buttons will be friend-zoned (again), and there will be a big sparkling wedding full of glitz and glamour ... and that’s only May McFettridge’s wedding outfit!

High points are the strong singing voices that extend across the cast, the broad Belfast accents and bad ass attitudes of the stepsisters who also channel their inner Shirley Bassey, a slapstick Meat Loaf routine, and the lyrical reworking of several ABBA songs (as if three weeks of Mamma Mia performances were still reverberating around the Grand Opera House).

Low points include the moment that giving someone a wedgie was added to the pantomime lexicon, and two characters saying that “I’ve just came [sic] from the palace” much to the annoyance of parents and teachers across the audience.

The exuberant Sheppy is underused, particularly in the first act. Meanwhile, Walcott gets much more opportunity to shine centre-stage this year: a sizeable number of cast and creatives from last year’s Goldilocks and the Three Bears are back, which must be seen as testament to the good atmosphere backstage in the Belfast production.

The costumes are colourful, the live band adapt to the wanton (and crowd-pleasing) messing around and ad libbing during the comedy routines – the cast are only five performances into their 69-show run – and there are regular pyrotechnics and big set changes to keep building the spectacle.

Crossroads Pantomimes’ Cinderella plays at the Grand Opera House until Sunday 15 January. It’s definitely the most elaborate pantomime in town with large scale special effects, an eight-strong dance ensemble, five band members in the pit, and laughs galore.

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