Entertainment

Cinderella takes over for Christmas with productions at The MAC and the Grand Opera House

The fairy godmother has conjured up not one but two productions of Cinderella for family audiences in Belfast this Christmas. Jane Hardy reviews the shows at The MAC and the Grand Opera House

Corrie Early, pictured left, as Cinderella with Fairy Godmother Jayne Wisener from The MAC's charming Christmas production. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Corrie Early, pictured left, as Cinderella with Fairy Godmother Jayne Wisener from The MAC's charming Christmas production. Picture by Hugh Russell. Corrie Early, pictured left, as Cinderella with Fairy Godmother Jayne Wisener from The MAC's charming Christmas production. Picture by Hugh Russell.

THE pantomime de choix this year is Cinderella, with two versions entertaining us in different ways. It's not hard to work out why the story of the girl in rags consigned to kitchen work resonates with a society faced with austerity.

At The MAC is a characteristically deft production from Cahoots NI. It's both new, old and appealing. The psychology is modern in Paul Bosco McEneaney's re-telling and it is refreshing to see two ugly sisters who are physically pretty, but nasty on the inside (Catriona McFeely and Philippa O'Hara). We got to understand the reasons for their meanness.

Their mother, Maria (Allison Harding) is a convincing grande dame fallen on hard times who would do anything to improve their fortunes, including marrying the humble clockmaker. Cinderella (Corrie Earley) is a grief-stricken girl who spends a lot of time in her late mother's garden. In fact, loss because of some unnamed sickness, is a theme.

Happily, a Fairy with a mechanical bird appeared to transform the situation. And the apparently humble castle handyman dropped by for Cinderella to fall in love with.

The old story unfolded, with brilliant Jayne Wisener later promoted to Fairy Godmother, in obligatory white party dress, to turn things round at the crucial ball.

One superbly expanded role was that of the old King Leopold, played with assured silliness by Richard Croxford. He's been in bed for four years since being widowed, doesn't wash much and has to be persuaded to act.

Of course, the original fable, probably a 17th century French tale, is about tearing off disguise and finding one's true self. Cinderella and her Prince, Sebastian (sweet Conor Quinn), did just that. It's nice the original, slightly gory details of the stepsisters mutilating their feet to fit into the glass slipper were kept. This production doesn't shy away from the darkness of Cinderella.

Musically, this Cinderella is sophisticated with a score that borrows freely from Mozart. There was also a magic, moving tree and a truly happy, well danced ending. If you want to know about transformations, this is for you.

The Grand Opera House's Cinderella is what we regard as a traditional panto, ie something that harks back to at least the 70s or 80s and is a star vehicle, in this case for that super trouper May McFettridge.

We know the story, there is a more worldly magic in some of the special effects in this Crossroads Pantomimes production, and the show pleased the stalls.

The most impressive illusion came when Cinders is transported to the Royal ball in a coach and horses, previously the pumpkin and mice, found in the kitchen. This was truly spectacular with the white steeds seeming to extend above and into the air above the audience.

This pantomime has a score that encompasses Abba and other pop standards. Prince Charming (Conor Headley), Buttons (Adam C Booth) and co have a good stab at it, but unfortunately the beautiful Cinderella herself (Kia-Paris Walcott) wasn't vocally on the money and sometimes sounded a bit shrill. But the dancing and overall stage enthusiasm kept things going pretty nicely.

This Cinderella is a comic outing in the main, even though the story is uber-romantic. So we saw Buttons, the Prince and Cinders upending each other on a wall and doing a comedy routine which undercut the passion.

The great comedic character is, naturally, the Fairy Godmother May McFettridge, and John Linehan ad libs like the pro he is.

Two Cinderellas, two different experiences - you can take your pick.

:: Cinderella runs at The MAC until January 8, themaclive.com

:: Cinderella runs at The Grand Opera House until January 15, goh.co.uk